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Hands-Free Doesn’t Free Coke in $24-million Cell Phone Driving Suit

(May 22, 2012) — A Texas jury awarded $24 million to a woman whose car was hit by a Coca Cola delivery truck, even though the truck driver was talking on a hands-free cell phone.

According to Insurance Journal, the jury decided to give a 37-year-old Vanice Chatman-Wilson $10 million in punitive damages and $14 million in actual damage.

The plaintiff’s attorneys alleged the driver was talking on a cellphone and that their client suffered neck and back pain and required surgery after the 2010 incident.

However, Coca-Cola said in a statement that the company has a policy requiring drivers to use a hands-free device when using a cellphone while driving. The truck driver also maintains she was using a hands-free headset system, in accordance with company policy.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Thomas J. Henry, argued that the policy is not enforced. He said that in its decision, the jury was sending a message to Coca Cola and other companies that it needs to change or strengthen such policies.

“We really need better rules, regulations and laws, and corporations need to have a no-cellphone policy while operating a vehicle,” he said.

Coca-Cola is appealing the verdict, arguing that the driver was n compliance with the law and damages awarded to Chatman-Wilson had no connection to her injuries.