Man Injured by Texting California Driver Seeks Punitive Damages

March 13, 2014

A man who was hurt in a Los Angeles accident he blamed on a texting driver is asking a California appeals court for permission to seek punitive damages, his lawyers said Tuesday.

Joseph Schultz’s attorneys filed a petition last week asking the 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn a lower court ruling that barred them from seeking punitive damages in their negligence suit over the 2010 crash.

If the court agrees, it could be the first such ruling in the country, said John Kristensen, an attorney for Schultz.

A handful of Florida courts have ruled that punitive damages could be sought but those cases were resolved before they went to trial, he said.

Punitive damages are awarded to punish bad behavior and can be many times larger than damages awarded as compensation for losses and injuries.

Texting while driving, like drunken driving, is not only illegal in California but constitutes behavior that meets the legal requirement of “conscious disregard for the safety of others,” the petition argues.

It is akin to “blindfolding yourself,” Kristensen said.

“If you’re on the freeway and you’re not looking for 10 seconds…you’re basically playing Russian roulette with other persons’ lives,” he said.

“If the law by itself isn’t preventing tragedies from occurring every day, perhaps punitive damages will cause drivers to think twice before texting and mangling fellow motorists or pedestrians,” Christopher J. Gansen, who co-authored the petition, said in a statement.

Schultz’s suit contends that a driver, Serob Terarutyunyan, was texting for what a witness described as a considerable amount of time on State Route 134 before losing control, swerving through lanes, striking several cars and then Schultz’s SUV, which was forced off the road and slammed head-on into a tree.

Schultz received moderate injuries, Kristensen said, adding that no criminal charges were filed.

The lawsuit names Terarutyunyan and the car’s owner, Andranik Terarutyunyan, Kristensen said.

A call to a Serob Terarutyunyan in the Tujunga area was not picked up Tuesday and a call left for the driver’s attorney, Michael O’Connor, was not immediately returned.

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