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September 10, 2001 - Wrongful Death Suit Ties Employee to Cell-Phone Use

On March 8, 2000, Jane L. Wagner, an associate at the law firm of Cooley Godward, was driving to her Virginia home at 10 p.m. when she accidentally swerved off the road and hit what she thought was a deer, before continuing home. In fact, she struck and killed 15-year-old Naeun Yoon, who was walking on the shoulder of the road. Wagner now is serving a one-year jail sentence for leaving the scene of an accident. Her employer, Cooley Godward, is facing a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit, because Wagner allegedly was making business calls on her handheld cellular telephone at or around the time of the accident.

The wrongful death suit, filed in Loudoun County Circuit Court in Virginia, is one of the first of its kind in the nation to allege employer liability for damages associated with an employee driving and talking on a handheld cell phone.

The suit alleges that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based law firm not only is vicariously liable for the accident because Wagner was acting in the scope of her employment when making cell phone calls to clients, but also that the firm is directly negligent for the accident. Among the suit's allegations is that Cooley Godward encouraged its employees to use cell phones to conduct business and that the firm failed to establish a policy concerning the safe use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle.

''All employers should consider carefully the double-edged sword of maximizing the money they make off of employees,'' said Peter C. Grenier, a partner at Bode & Grenier L.L.P. in Washington, who is representing the Yoon family.

''While it's certainly nice to make a profit from employees who drive and conduct business, employers will be held responsible for any tragedies or injuries that result from it,'' he said.

The Yoon family, which filed the wrongful death suit against the law firm, Wagner and her husband, is seeking $25 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

Attorneys and risk management consultants advise that employers should take steps to mitigate their exposure by establishing and distributing cell phone policies to employees. ''We counsel a lot of employers, especially those with employees who spend a lot of time of the road, to communicate to them about the potential dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone,'' said Jeremy Glenn, an attorney with the law offices of D'Ancona & Pflaum L.L.C. in Chicago.

In all matters involving wrongful death it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. If a loved one has been a victim of wrongful death, contact us now, CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Donít delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.

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The wrongful death information offered by Virginia Wrongful Death Lawyer and contained herein, regarding Virginia wrongful death statutes and Virginia wrongful death claimants' rights is general in scope. No wrongful death Virginia attorney client relationship with our Virginia wrongful death attorneys is hereby formed nor is the negligent death information herein intended as formal legal advice. Please contact a Virginia personal injury wrongful death lawyer regarding your specific inquiry.

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