Connecticut Law Awards Punitive Damages for Using Phones while Driving

Connecticut has enacted a new law (HB 7126) effective July 1, 2019, that will increase the cost of auto insurance for Connecticut drivers.  The new law allows an injured party to recover double or triple damages in civil actions involving a person who operates a motor vehicle while using a hand held mobile device or other electronic device.  It will complicate the claims process and increase costs as the proofs and disputes of whether or not a mobile phone or GPS device was in use, and whether or not the use of the phone was “a substantial factor in causing …injury, death or damage to property” become a major focus in claims handling.  Even though most carriers have no duty to pay for double or treble damages, the defense of the insured will be complicated, and disputes drawn out longer, and may perhaps push more cases to trial in the overburdened justice system.  The extra claims handling and litigation will be an expense insurers ultimately passed on to Connecticut consumers.  Notably, these  punitive damages are excluded under virtually all vehicle insurance; the insurers will not pay these damages, but will only pay for the additional claims handling expenses.  It remains to be seen as to whether this has any positive impact on reducing the use of cell phones by drivers.