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Colorado motorists may not fully understand the dangers of distracted driving. 71% of teenagers and young adults admit to writing or sending text messages while driving, and 78% of teenagers and young adults admit to reading a text message while driving. With the advances of cell phone technology and its growing popularity, the use of cell phones while driving has increased exponentially in the last few years, and so has the risk posed by distracted drivers.

In fact, increased cell phone usage in Colorado has made the problem of distracted driving much worse, leading to more motor vehicle accidents. CDOT reports that each year approximately 13 percent of all traffic crashes (about 13,000) in Colorado are linked to distracted driving. The number of car accidents caused by drivers using cell phones is grossly underreported, so there are more car accidents caused by distracted driving than current data shows.

When people are injured in car accidents caused by distracted drivers using cell phones, their injuries are sometimes very serious. With a lawyer's help, victims can receive damages to help pay for their medical bills and compensate them for pain and suffering. Oftentimes, however, liability insurance coverage is insufficient to provide victims of distracted driving the compensatory relief they need to return to their normal lives. Medical expenses resulting from car accidents often exceed the at-fault driver's policy limits.

In some cases, victims of car accidents caused by cell phone driving may be able to receive additional compensation in the form of punitive damages. In Colorado, punitive damages are meant to deter certain behavior and punish the at-fault driver for an act that is "purposefully committed which the actor must have realized as dangerous, done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others."

Colorado courts have granted punitive damages in car accident cases involving drunk driving when the victim (plaintiff) proved the defendant acted willfully and wantonly by driving while intoxicated. Research comparing cell phone driving and drunk driving shows that although cell phone drivers and drunk drivers react differently to certain traffic situations, "the impairments associated with cell phone drivers may be as great as those commonly observed with intoxicated drivers." A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver, HUMAN FACTORS, Vol. 48, No. 2, at 388 (Summer 2006).

Colorado courts considering the rights of an injured person may find punitive damages to be appropriate in distracted driving cases involving cell phone use. The penalties for distracted driving can be very serious. As a matter of public policy, adding punitive damages to civil liabilities (in addition to potential criminal penalties) may help deter people from using cell phones while driving. It could certainly help injured persons receive additional compensation, above the limits of the at-fault driver's insurance policy.

Punitive damages are not available in every motor vehicle accident case. Unlike compensatory damages, plaintiffs can only receive punitive damages under extraordinary circumstances. If punitive damages might be available in your case, it is best to seek the representation of a qualified personal injury attorney who knows the proper procedures for seeking and obtaining punitive damages.

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