You would think that it would be common sense by now.

Driving while using a cell phone without a hands free device is dangerous. The same goes for texting , using your Blackberry, or fiddling around with your iPod while driving.

Vanessa C. McGrogan had to learn this lesson in the worst possible way. In 2006 Ms. McGrogan had her cruise control set at 77 miles per hour in a 70 mile an hour zone, and while she was speeding along she was also making business calls on the cell phone that had been provided for her by International Paper.

Ms. McGrogan was in the middle of a call when she rear-ended a car owned by Vanessa Ford. The collision forced Ms. Ford’s car into a ditch on the side of the road, which then rolled over. When the car was done rolling over, Ms. Ford’s arm was pinned between the car and the ground. Ms. Ford’s arm later had to be amputated.

Since the phone was supplied by International Paper, and since the phone was being used (recklessly, we might add) for business purposes by Ms. McGrogan, Ms. Ford’s attorney was quite correct in seeking punitive damages from International Paper.

According to the article linked above, the outside counsel hired by International Paper tried some approaches to defense that would seem ludicrous to anyone not involved in these sorts of cases, but as attorneys that fight for injury victims on a daily basis, we see tactics of this sort all the time. The defense brought up the fact that Ms. Ford was a smoker as part of the reason that her arm was amputated. Since smoking causes vascular constriction, the attorneys reasoned, then surely the arm would have healed quite nicely had Ms. Ford simply not been a smoker.

While we think smoking is both a bad habit and a bad idea, we have yet to see someone’s arm fall off due to a cigarette habit. We have, however, seen people lose arms when they are pinned under two tons of machinery, which is what happened to Ms. Ford. Fortunately, Ms. Ford’s doctor and another outside medical expert successfully disputed International Paper’s reasoning.

IP’s attorneys also made a ridiculously low initial settlement offer of $750,000, which seems a very low price tag for learning how to live without an arm. Ms. Ford’s attorney quite rightly rejected the settlement offer, and IP then made the much more reasonable offer of $5.2 million.

In a case like this, a favorable result for the plaintiff can hardly be called a “victory.” If given the choice between a multi-million dollar settlement and having her arm back, we would guess that Ms. Ford would easily choose the latter. But we think this case is a good example of why punitive damages are a crucial part of keeping the scales of justice equally balanced between multi-billion dollar corporations and regular people.

It is an argument that is falling on increasingly deaf ears in recent years. Insurance company financed “tort reform” organizations have been on a full scale public relations blitz for years, manufacturing bogus “lawsuit crises” and making it seem as if every person that files a lawsuit in this country is some sort of con artist looking for a payday rather than a victim of negligence or bad faith. By convincing the public that this is the case, they make it easier to pass legislation that caps the amount of damages that an individual can receive, even in cases of gross negligence.

As the Supreme Court has been tilting increasingly rightward, the tone of the legal system has gone the same way. Just recently, while finally hearing the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, newly appointed Chief Justice John Roberts expressed no concern for the thousands of families that had their livelihoods and culture destroyed by the negligence of a drunken ship captain. He expressed no concern about the horrific damage done to the pristine Alaska coast line by an enormous oil spill. He had no interest in the fact that it has taken nineteen years and Exxon still has not paid what they were ordered to the victims, despite the fact that Exxon has had year after year of record profits.

What was Chief Robert’s main concern?

"So what can a corporation do to protect itself against punitive-damages awards such as this?" Roberts asked in court.

With the prevailing judicial wisdom leaning towards the rights of the corporation and away from the rights of the average citizen, it is more important than ever to have legal counsel with the experience to make it clear what your injuries cost you.

In Georgia, that’s the Dover Law Firm.

We have attorneys with years of successful courtroom experience, and we know how to make it clear to judges, juries and arbitrators not only what you lost because of the injury, but also what you would have had if the injury had never taken place.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact our offices for a free legal consultation today.