- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

A Loudoun County Circuit Court judge has ruled that a man can pursue a $30 million lawsuit against a Virginia lawyer and her law firm on the basis that her use of a cell phone caused her to run down and kill his 15-year-old daughter.
Judge F. Burke McCahill made that ruling Wednesday in the case of Young-ki Yoon vs. lawyer Jane L. Wagner and her employer Cooley Godward LLP, a Palo Alto, Calif., law firm with offices in Northern Virginia.
Wagner, 30, is serving one year in Fairfax County jail and pre-release center for hit-and-run after her silver Mercedes-Benz struck and killed Naeun Yoon along Leesburg Pike the night of March 8, 2000.
Wagner pleaded guilty a year ago and was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but 12 months suspended. She began serving her sentence four months later on March 1, after giving birth to her first baby.
During criminal court proceedings, the westbound Mercedes-Benz was reported to be swerving back and forth before striking the teen-aged girl.
At sentencing, Wagner was said to be using her cell phone.
Mr. Yoon, who had brought his family from South Korea only two weeks before his daughter died, filed the lawsuit on June 14, claiming that Wagner used her cell phone 32 times between noon and 11 p.m. on the day of the hit and run.
"All but eight of those calls were for business," Mr. Yoon's attorney Peter C. Grenier said yesterday, contending that her law firm, Cooley Godward, was therefore negligent.
Mr. McCahill's ruling allows the lawsuit to include Cooley Godward. But, on another issue he ruled that Cooley Godward could not be found negligent for failing to establish a policy about the safe use of cell phones by employees.
Many companies across the nation have prohibited cell-phone use by employees when driving. Others have established policies for safer use of the phones.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, for instance, has instructed employees to pull off the road to use their cell phones.
Even state governments are considering safeguards.
More than 140 bills have been introduced in 43 states this year to limit state employees' use of cell phones.
New York prohibits its drivers from talking on phones while driving.
One of Cooley Godward's attorneys, John D. McGavin of Fairfax, said a logical extension of a company cell-phone policy "would be to have a policy in place preventing people from eating hamburgers or drinking Cokes" while driving.
Mr. Grenier said he will refile for judgment on the policy issue, explaining that he learned Cooley Godward reimbursed employees for cell-phone use.
Some employers already have paid huge judgments for wrecks while their employees were on cell phones.
In 1999, Salomon Smith Barney paid a $500,000 judgment rather than go through a lawsuit trial because one of its brokers ran a red light while picking up a cell phone, and killed a motorcyclist. The brokerage did not even own the cell phone.


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