If you’re texting and driving, and you cause a crash, there will be serious repercussions. Everyone knows the risks. Not only could your actions lead to injury or death of yourself or another person, but you’re likely to face criminal and/or civil liability.
But what if you’re not the one behind the wheel? What if you’re the person that the driver was texting? Could you be held liable for accidents that resulted from your conversation? According to a decision out of a New Jersey appellate court, you could be.
Texting & Driving Accident Case
Back in 2009, 19-year-old Kyle Best was texting and driving in New Jersey when he veered into the opposite lane and crashed into a motorcycle. The riders were a married couple named David and Linda Kubert. Both Linda and David lost a leg in the crash.
Naturally, the Kuberts hired a personal injury lawyer to help recover their medical bills and other expenses, and file a lawsuit against Best.
But what was unique about this case was that the Kuberts also sued Shannon Colonna, Best’s girlfriend, whom he had been texting at the time of the crash. The Kuberts believed that since Colonna had been part of the conversation, she too was partially at fault. The judge dismissed the Kuberts’ claims against Colonna. The Kuberts appealed.
New Jersey Decision
While rare, passengers can sometimes be held partially liable for crashes. For example, if a passenger lets a visibly intoxicated friend get behind the wheel, or encourages the driver to speed. It is this logic that the New Jersey appellate court had to address in their decision regarding Shannon Colonna’s liability.
The appeals court found that the Kuberts’ argument had some merit, and that “a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.”
If the sender knows that the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately, then the sender has taken a foreseeable risk in sending a text at that time. The sender has knowingly engaged in distracting conduct, and it is not unfair also to hold the sender responsible for the distraction.
Ultimately, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case against Shannon Colonna, because the Kuberts failed to prove that Colonna knew Best was driving a car during their text exchanges.
Likely To Become Law In St. Louis?
One thing that makes the New Jersey decision so controversial is that it’s hard to expect a sender to know that the recipient will read the message while driving, much less to prove the sender knew. Unless the text message said something to the effect of “I know you’re driving, but you have to respond to this message now,” the sender should be safe.
While it was dismissed, the suit against Shannon Colonna may have cost her quite a bit in attorney’s fees. It didn’t take long before New Jersey Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande announced that she would propose a bill to protect individuals who sent the text that causes a crash.
Here in St. Louis, you aren’t likely to get sued for sending a text message to a driver for now. But as car accident lawyers, we urge you to remember the hazards of texting and driving. If you know that your friend is on the road, don’t hold entire text conversations with them. Keep your friend safe and reduce the temptation by saving the conversation until later.
Injured By A Distracted Driver?
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident that was caused by a texting driver, call our office at 314.444.4444. The attorneys at Schultz & Myers Personal Injury Lawyers will look in every avenue of recovery so that you are compensated for medical bills, lost wages, and other damages that resulted from your crash.