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Jury awards $24M to woman hit by driver on phone

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Posted: May 6, 2012 9:03 AM

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - A Corpus Christi jury awarded $24 million to a woman who was hit by a Coca-Cola truck driver who was chatting on her cellphone.

The jury decided Friday to give 37-year-old Vanice Chatman-Wilson $10 million in punitive damages and $14 million in actual damage.

Chatman-Wilson's attorneys argued their client suffered neck and back pain and had to undergo lumbar surgery after the 2010 accident, when the truck hit the Ford Fusion she was driving.

Coca-Cola said in a statement that it plans to appeal the jury's decision, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/KoOSb5) reported. The beverage company has a policy requiring drivers to use a hands-free device when using a cellphone while driving. The driver maintains she was using a headset, in accordance with company policy.

But Bob Hilliard, one of Chatman-Wilson's attorneys, said the policy is not enforced.

"Not only does Coke need to change it, but when other companies hear the verdict, they will take a look at their policies," Hilliard said.

Coca-Cola, however, said in a statement the damages awarded to Chatman-Wilson had no connection to her injuries.

Araceli Vanessa Cabral, the 30-year-old truck driver, testified she was not aware of the risks involved in using a cellphone while driving, Chatman-Wilson's attorney Thomas J. Henry said. Cabral testified that had she known, she would not have used her phone.

The jury is trying to tell Coca-Cola Enterprises to change its policy, Henry said.

"We really need better rules, regulations and laws, and corporations need to have a no-cellphone policy while operating a vehicle," he said.

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