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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Court Expresses Increased Interest in Cell Phone Use and Accident Liability
Key point. The use of cell phones by church employees and volunteers while driving vehicles on church business may expose the church to substantial liability in the event of an accident caused by distracted driving.

A Florida court ruled that the cell phone records of a driver who was killed when her car struck a truck could be examined by the trucking company's attorney to determine if the decedent was using her cell phone at the time of the accident. A truck operated by a trucking company collided with a vehicle driven by a woman, who was killed in the accident. Six months later, the decedent's estate filed a wrongful death action, but the trucking company denied liability. It asserted that the decedent's own negligence in operating a cell phone at the time of the accident was the sole cause of the accident, and therefore the trucking company could not be found liable for her death.

On several occasions the trucking company requested data from the decedent's cell phone, which had been kept unused since the accident. And while the trucking company received some calling and texting records from the decedent's wireless provider, other cell phone data was not disclosed, such as use and location information, internet website access history, email messages, and social and photo media posted and reviewed on the day of the accident.

The trucking company asked the trial court for an order permitting an expert to inspect the cell phone's data on the day of the accident. The decedent's estate objected to the cell phone inspection citing the decedent's privacy rights under the state Constitution. After a hearing, the trial court granted the trucking company's request. The court's order allowing the inspection recognized both the trucking company's discovery rights and the privacy interest asserted by the decedent's estate. It stressed the relevance of the requested information, citing cell phone records showing that the decedent had been texting in the minutes preceding the accident; testimony from two witnesses indicating that the decedent may have been utilizing her cell phone at the time of the accident; and testimony from the responding troopers supporting the assertion that the decedent was using her cell phone when the accident occurred.

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