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Should A Person Be Held Liable For Knowingly Sending A Text Message To A Driver? - New Jersey Appeals Courts Says Yes

Posted Scott B. Cooper on Aug 29, 2013 in Car Accidents

A New Jersey state appeals court rendered a ruling yesterday which means "Don't text a driver -- or you could be held liable if he or she causes a crash."

According to the lawsuit, Kyle Best was behind the wheel of his pickup in September 2009 driving down a rural highway, when Shannon Colonna sent him a text.  The two were teens at the time. He was 18; she was 17, and they were dating. They sent each other 62 texts that day.  In the opposing lane of traffic, David Kubert was cruising along on a big, blue touring motorcycle with his wife Linda along for the ride. They approached Best at exactly the wrong time.

A court summary of the times of texts and calls to and from Best's cell phone reflect what happened next:

The teens were having a text chat, volleying each other messages every few moments.  Seventeen seconds after Best sent a text, he was calling a 911 operator.  The scene Best described to the emergency operator was most certainly gruesome.  The Kuberts both lost their legs. They sued.

But they didn't just go after Best. They included Colonna in the lawsuit.  In their minds, she was distracting him and was also responsible for their pain and loss.  They settled with Best and lost against Colonna, but they appealed that decision.

The Kubert's argued that the text sender was electronically in the car with the driver receiving the text and should be treated like someone sitting next to him willfully causing a distraction.  The three appeals court judges agreed with it -- in principle.

They ruled that if the sender of text messages knows that the recipient is driving and texting at the same time, a court may hold the sender responsible for distraction and hold her liable for the accident.

"We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted," the court said.

But Colonna was not held liable.  She had a habit of sending more than 100 texts a day and was oblivious to whether recipients were driving or not.  Since she was unaware that Best was texting while driving, she bore no responsibility, the court decided.

"In this appeal, we must also decide whether plaintiffs have shown sufficient evidence to defeat summary judgment in favor of the remote texter. We conclude they have not," it said.

If you, or a loved one, are injured in a Harrisburg car accident because of another driver or company who may have been driving distracted, contact an experienced Central Pennsylvania car accident lawyer at Schmidt Kramer.  We can answer any questions or concerns you have about a Central Pennsylvania injury accident in Harrisburg, Carlise, Lancaster, Camp Hill, Hershey, Lebanon and all of Pennsylvania.

The toll-free number is 888-476-0807 or 717-888-8888 and the case evaluation is free.

Alternatively, you may wish to download a free copy of our book Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured in an Automobile Accident? for additional information.