BUNNELL, Fla. - A Flagler County woman who was severely injured in a crash caused by a man who was texting while driving has won a $4.3 million lawsuit.
The law firm representing 26-year-old Cacilia Carter said the verdict was handed down Aug. 5 in Flagler County Circuit Court.
Carter was a passenger in a vehicle by her then-boyfriend Joseph O'Guin on Dec. 20, 2010. Carter's attorneys claimed O'Guin was texting and ran a stop sign. The Florida Highway Patrol reported the vehicle slid into a tractor-trailer.
Attorney Luis Gracia says Carter is still impaired and permanently disabled. Gracia says O'Guin did not testify during the trial.
There was no jury in the case, so Circuit Judge Dennis Craig made the ruling.
"It's basically an epidemic," William Burkhart, a safety instructor for the Northeast Florida Safety Council, said of texting and driving.
He said he's not surprised by the judge's order and points to studies that show texting is behind nearly a quarter of all car accidents -- 1.6 million a year -- with 11 teen deaths every day as a result.
"I think that's what's going to happen is, to get more people's attention about the dangers of texting or whatever, you are going to see more and more of the suits being brought and more and more judgments like this," Burkhart said.
Cellphone companies are trying to combat the problem. AT&T uses an online driving simulator to show the dangers.
Attorney Gene Nichols said it's good to raise awareness, but as far as this latest judgment, he's not sure the woman will ever see a cent because the driver had no insurance and apparently didn't show up in court.
"She got a $4.3 million verdict from the judge and it is on a piece of paper, and unfortunately it is worth what the piece of paper is worth," Nichols said.
Those at the Northeast Florida Safety Council said parents need to be especially careful because not only are adults as likely to send a text while driving, they're setting an example for their kids and future generations of drivers.
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