Should A Text Sender Be Liable In A Car Accident Case?

Drivers should never text while driving. In fact, it's illegal in all state. What happens if you send someone a text while they are driving and they cause an accident while reading your text? Are you liable? A New Jersey court ruling stated that the sender of the text also has the duty not to text drivers. The sender can be legally liable if the driver causes a car accident. The New Jersey court pointed out that a remote texter or sender could only be held civilly liable if they knew that the recipient will view the message while driving.

Related: More Enforcement For Kentucky Texting While Driving Laws

What caused this law in New Jersey?
The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court’s ruling stems from a September 2009 case in which a couple was seriously injured when their motorcycle was hit by a pickup truck. This pickup truck was driven by a teen driver who was texting his girlfriend. David and Linda Kubert, of Dover, both lost their left legs. The teen driver, Kyle Best, of Wharton, pleaded guilty to using a handheld cell phone while driving, careless driving and failure to maintain a lane. He admitted that he was texting with his girlfriend, Shannon Colonna.

Can the sender of a text be sued?
While the lawsuit against Best has been settled, the Kuberts have also sued Colonna for sending Best text messages while he was driving and distracting him. The couple wanted both the sender and receiver be held accountable. However, the lower court dismissed the lawsuit against Colonna and the appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision. The New Jersey courts says that the necessary evidence to prove breach of the remoter texter’s duty is absent in the present case. The court explained that a remote texter has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows the recipient will read the text while on the road. In that accident case, it was not established that Colonna was aware Best would be reading her text while driving.

Statistics

  • About 13% of drivers ages 18-20 who are involved in car crashes admit to texting or talking on their cell phones at the time of the accident
  • The age group under 20 is considered to have the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers and 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving the same.

Related: The Dangers of Distracted Driving

How do you prove whether or not the sender knew the person was driving?
The recent New Jersey court ruling has spurred various questions, opinions and views. Should a person be punished for texting a driver? How can you prove that a texter knew or had the knowledge that recipient of their message was driving? Is extending personal liability fair or unfair?

Distracted driving is an epidemic in the country and many lives have been ruined and wasted. In previous distraction-affected crashes, it is only the driver who carries the sole liability, sparing the texter. The question now arises, is it about time to extend the liability to text senders and make anti-texting laws tougher? Does it all boil down to the responsibility of every driver to obey the law and keep safe control of his vehicle?

Michael Schafer
The Personal Injury Attorney for Louisville and Kentucky
1 Comments
The sender usually does not know if the recipient is driving. If I get a text while driving, I pull over somewhere to see who sent it and if it is important. As tragic as accidents caused by distracted driving are, I can't see any responsibility for the sender.
by Karen September 6, 2013 at 07:14 AM
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