Can texters be held liable for texting a distracted driver?

Posted on 07-23-2014 by
Tags: cell phone , Latst Headlines & Stories , Bring Your Own Device

In recent years, one of the most publicized societal issues has been the dangers of distracted driving with many state governments passing laws banning certain types of cell phone use while driving. As a result, most people understand and appreciate that a driver who causes a motor vehicle accident because of cell phone use can be held liable and responsible. 

What about the person on the other end of the phone call or text message? Should that person also be liable for a resulting car accident, and if so, can they be held liable? In August 2013, a state court in New Jersey considered this issues, raising the very real possibility that a sender of a text message could be held liable for any injuries and damages caused by a motor vehicle accident. 

In Kubert v. Best, a case before a New Jersey state court, the plaintiffs were riders on a motorcycle who were both injured when a teenage driver steered his truck into their lane of travel and struck them head on. The motorcycle riders both suffered significant injuries and subsequently sued the teenage driver, arguing that the driver should be held responsible for his distracted driving and for causing the accident and their injuries. As a unique and previously unheard-of twist, though, the injured motorcycle riders also sued the driver's female friend who had been texting the driver at the time of the accident. 

Essentially, the New Jersey court found that a person who sends a text message to another person known to be driving a vehicle is no different from a distracting passenger, which opened the door to this idea of "sender liability."

The New Jersey court, however, was quick to limit the potential impact and scope of its determination and this new, possible avenue of liability. Notably, an injured party would have to prove that the sender of the text message "actively encouraged" a driver to text or read a text message behind the wheel. For the sender to have potential liability for any resulting accident, there must exist sufficient proof that: (1) the sender and driver engaged in a texting conversation; (2) the driver was operating a vehicle; and, (3) the driver communicated to the sender that he or she was driving.

Ultimately, there was insufficient proof in Kubert that the sender had actual knowledge that the driver was driving before she sent the message that allegedly led to the collision, and, as a result, the sender of the text message avoided liability in that instance. 

However, only time will tell what state legislatures and other courts will do with these issues and how the law will develop in this area.  For the moment, though, the New Jersey court's decision in Kubert may give some people reason to pause and think before sending a text message.  

Read the complete article “Can sending a text message make you liable for a car accident?” via JDSupra.  

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