In an interesting ruling earlier this week, a New Jersey appellate court held that you don’t have to be driving to get in trouble for sending a text message. You can potentially be held legally liable for sending a text message to someone who is behind the wheel and causes an accident. This ruling seems to open a whole new battlefield in the war on texting and driving. The Appeals Court agreed with the argument made by two Plaintiffs that were seriously injured in a crash with a teenager whose truck swerved across the center line and hit them riding on their motorcycle. The Plaintiffs settled with the driver, but they also sued his girlfriend for their injuries. She allegedly texted him just moments before the crash. The court didn’t find the girlfriend liable because she didn’t appear to know her boyfriend was driving at the time. Nevertheless, the judges accepted the general argument that a text sender may bear some legal liability if they know the relieving party is driving. The opinion stated:
We conclude 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.
This is certainly an interesting new duty placed on non-driving texters. Even if there is such a duty, one must wonder whether the sending of the text would be considered the proximate cause of any accident. After all, wouldn’t the driver’s act of accessing and reading the text be the proximate cause of the accident, not necessarily the person sending the text? And how would the non-driving texter’s purported knowledge of the recipient’s driving be litigated under the circumstances? This opinion should make for some interesting future litigation.
The opinion is Kubert v. Best, — A.3d —-, No. A-1128-12T4, (N.J. Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2013).