You see everyone doing it: checking emails, talking on cell phones, or texting while driving. Unfortunately, while most people feel this activity is harmless, it is causing accidents, injuries and even deaths. Talking on your phone or texting requires you to divert your attention away from driving. Recently, an Allegheny County case has taken issue with this behavior. The plaintiffs in Deringer v. Li alleged that the above behavior rises to the level of being “reckless” and warrants the imposition of punitive damages. Plaintiffs alleged the defendant’s behavior was reckless because he was using a mobile phone when he drove into the rear end of a motorcycle, which was stopped. Defendants filed preliminary objections seeking to dismiss the reckless claim for punitive damages asserting that the conduct was merely negligence. The Court however, disagreed and overruled the preliminary objection.   
The Court’s ruling in this matter is significant. In ruling in this matter, the Court was required to perform a threshold analysis of whether the use of a cell phone or texting while operating a car could support punitive damages or whether as a matter of law, such conduct can never support a punitive damages claim. By overruling the preliminary objections the Court held that a jury could find that cell phone use while operating a car is reckless conduct which can support a claim for punitive damages.