LEGAL ISSUES

Sued Over an Employee's Phone Call

Your mobile phone's liability.
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The latest in ambulance-chasing: going after a company whose employee gets in a car accident while talking on a cell phone.

The precedent was set in 2002, when a lumber wholesaler paid $16.1 million to the family of a 78-year-old Florida woman who was fatally injured in a crash involving one of the company's salesmen. He was talking with a client 46 seconds before he called 911 about the accident, cell phone records show.

Among pending lawsuits, the most high-profile target is the San Francisco-based law firm Cooley Godward. In March 2000, an attorney was talking on her phone when she hit and killed a 15-year-old Virginia girl. Whether the lawyer was working at the time is disputed. Cooley Godward argues that the accident happened after hours -- at around 10 p.m. -- and that the attorney was talking to a former colleague and not discussing work. The girl's family seeks $30 million in damages. (The attorney served a year in jail and was disbarred.)

Fair or not, employers are likely to be dragged into these suits more and more. "The reason they're going after the employer," explains Paul Martinek, publisher of Lawyers Weekly USA, "is that they're looking for a deep pocket."

Last updated: Jul 1, 2004




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