People who send text messages to motorists may be found liable for accidents that occur from texting and driving. In Kubert v. Best, a New Jersey appeals court found that a person who texts someone that is driving can be held liable for personal injuries sustained by others who are involved in an accident caused by the driver.
“We hold that, when a texter knows or has special reason to know that the intended recipient is driving and is likely to read the text message while driving, the texter has a duty to users of the public roads to refrain from sending the driver a text at that time,” Judge Victor Ashrafi wrote in the unanimous opinion.
Shannon Colonna, a co-defendant in the case, had sent text messages to Kyle Best while he was driving his Chevy pickup truck. Mr. Best subsequently crossed the center line and sideswiped a motorcycle – causing serious injuries to the driver and his passenger. Although Colonna was not found to be liable (it was not clear if she knew the driver would read the text message) the court’s ruling has opened the door for future claims against remote texters.
It should be noted that the court’s decision imposes only a limited duty on those sending texts. “The mere sending of a wireless transmission” to a person operating a motor vehicle is not enough. It must also be shown that the remote sender knew or had reason to know that the recipient was driving and likely to read the text message while driving.
The Court reasoned that this limitation is necessary because “the act of sending such messages, by itself, is not active encouragement that the recipient read the text and respond immediately, that is, while driving and in violation of the law.”
Better safe than sorry
While this was a New Jersey case, it’s no secret that driving while texting and other forms of distracted driving is a widespread problem. Nationally, there were 387,000 injuries and 3,331 deaths in 2011 due to motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Other judges and lawmakers across the country are likely to consider this case when making future rulings or drafting new laws.
Just how dangerous is it to text? Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field – blind.
- If you are driving, let your friends and family know that you’ll be behind the wheel and unable to answer their messages.
- If you know someone is driving, or do not immediately receive a reply to your text – wait for them to arrive at their destination. Sending repeated texts demanding a reply could cause an accident – for which you may be partially liable.
“Can you really be liable for texting a driver?” by Doug Gross, CNN, August 29, 2013.