Dangers of cell phone use while driving raised with federal personal injury claim

By Jon Campisi | Jul 29, 2011

A 20-year-old West Chester man who drove his company pickup truck into the back of a vehicle driven by a man from South Jersey is being sued in federal court, as is his employer.

John M. Hickey, of West Chester, Pa., was named as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit filed July 27 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The complaint was filed by Plymouth Meeting, Pa. lawyer Richard D. Senker on behalf of of Derek Piester and Semah Zavareh, a husband and wife who live in Vorhees, N.J.

Potamkin Hyundai Inc. of Miami is also named as a defendant in the suit.

According to the complaint, Piester was driving his car on an Interstate 476 exit ramp, attempting to enter the southbound lanes of Route 1, when his vehicle was suddenly struck from behind by the pickup owned by Potamkin Hyundai, and driven by defendant Hickey.

“Defendant Hickey looked at his cell phone just before driving into the rear of Derek Piester’s car, and it was Defendant Hickey’s looking at said cell phone that caused the collision,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit accuses Hickey of negligence and carelessness for failing to properly and safely operate the pickup truck, for causing a rear-end collision, for failing to sound the horn or otherwise warn the plaintiff of his approach, for using a cell phone while driving a vehicle and for violating state and local laws.

The accident caused Piester to sustain physical injuries that are serious and may be permanent, although the lawsuit doesn’t specify exactly what the injuries are.

In addition, the complaint alleges, Piester suffered psychological and emotional injuries because of the incident.

Piester has been required to undergo medical attention for the treatment of his injuries, the suit states, and he has suffered a “severe loss of earnings” because of his inability to work due to the accident.

Piester has also incurred various financial expenses related to the crash.

In addition to the accusations leveled against Hickey, the lawsuit also faults Potamkin Hyundai for failing to properly train Hickey how to drive safely, permitting Hickey to use his cell phone while driving a company vehicle and failing to enforce a company policy banning employees from talking on their cells while operating vehicles.

The plaintiffs demand judgment against the defendants, jointly and severally, for compensatory damages to be determined at trial, unspecified punitive damages because of “said reckless conduct,” the cost of the lawsuit and any other relief deemed appropriate by the court.

A jury trial has been demanded.

Unlike New Jersey and other neighboring states, Pennsylvania does not yet have an outright ban on the use of a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.

The City of Philadelphia does have an ordinance banning the activity, but violating the local law leads only to a fine; no points are taken off a driver’s license .

The state House did, this spring, pass a distracted driver bill, which was hailed by advocates as a step in the right direction, but the measure makes talking on a phone while driving a secondary offense, meaning drivers have to be pulled over by police for another violation before they can be cited for the cell conversation.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-04720-CDJ.

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