C. David Durkee
Recently, the law firm of Roberts & Durkee set precedent when it held Marilexa Reyes an 18 year old driver accountable for punitive damages as a result of texting and driving.
The facts of the case were as follows. On January 15, 2016, MARILEXA S. REYES, 18 years old, was traveling north on North University Drive in Broward County during stop and go traffic. Despite knowing that this was a busy road way and that vehicles were likely to stop and go, this young, inexperienced driver began to text her boyfriend. As her eyes were composing the text to her boyfriend, the vehicle driven by Shelby Decker stopped for the bus that was in front of her. Marilexa Reyes never even saw Shelby Decker stop – and her car violently rear ended Shelby Decker. This accident sent both Shelby Decker and her daughter to seek medical care for their injuries.
Under Florida law, Punitive damages are appropriate when the act in question was committed with malice, moral turpitude, wantonness, willfulness, outrageous aggravation, or in reckless indifference to another person’s rights. Zuckerman v. Robinson, 846 So. 2d 1257, 1258 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) (citing Fla. East Coast Ry. Co. v. McRoberts, 111 Fla. 278, 149 So. 2d 631 (Fla. 1933). Punitive damages are reserved for cases where private injuries partake of public wrongs, and punishment is authorized to deter future harm to the public both by the party assessed and by others acting similarly. Ingram, v. Pettitt, 340 So. 2d 922, 924-25 (Fla. 1976). C. David Durkee, the lead attorney for Roberts & Durkee argued that in the case of texting and driving, awarding punitive damages would properly punish the wrongdoer and deter future harm from texting and driving.
Durkee argued that recently, Florida passed a Traffic law (Florida Statue §316.305 cited as the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law”) This statue makes it a traffic violation to be texting while driving. Further, he argued that according to a recent study, texting while driving is actually more dangerous than driving under the influence. A study of young drivers in England found that the reaction times of drivers that were text messaging was three times slower than the reaction times of those drinking alcohol. Another study conducted by Virginia Tech found that a driver’s risk of an accident increased 23 times because of texting while driving.
Armed with the law and the facts of this case, the Court granted Durkee’s Motion to Amend to Plead Punitive Damages against this driver – specifically because she was texting while driving. As a result of this ruling, the case then settled shortly after for an amount in excess of the policy limits.
This will now be another tool that the Florida Courts can use to help prevent this dangerous act. If driver’s know they are likely to be responsible for, not only the actual damages that are caused because of terrible injuries, but be liable for “punitive damages”, maybe drivers will think twice before they pick up their phone while driving.
(If you are interested in reading the motion and order look below)
by Javier Basnuevo