Texting Someone While They’re Driving Could Leave You Liable in New Jersey

    August 30, 2013
    Josh Wolford
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A New Jersey appeals court has just handed down one of the most baffling rulings concerning technology and civil liability that you’re likely to see. Ever.

In plain words, the court has ruled that future texters who knowingly text someone who’s driving can potentially be held liable for that remote text. That means that, in theory, if you text your boyfriend or girlfriend and they crash their car and kill someone, it’s possible that you could be found liable in a civil suit – just like the driver of the car.

It’s important to note that this didn’t actually happen. The case in which this scenario arose resulted in the remote texter being relieved of all wrongdoing. But in the course of making that decision, the New Jersey appeals court made it clear that the door is open for future litigation against people who text people they know are driving.

Here’s the language from the ruling:

We must determine as a matter of civil common law whether one who is texting from a location remote from the driver of a motor vehicle can be liable to persons injured because the driver was distracted by the text. We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.

Worms? Cans of them? Anyone?

The case in question involved a teenager whose texting while driving resulted in a major distraction, and his car crossed the center line and struck a motorcycle-riding couple head on. The couple both lost their legs, and they sued not only the driver but his girlfriend, whom court records show was texting the driver at the time of the accident.

A lower court ruled her not liable, but the case went to appeals. Although the appeals court made the blanket ruling opening the door to such liability, they ruled that in this specific case the girl should be let off the hook. Basically, there was no proof that she had special reason to know her boyfriends was driving as she was texting him.

“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. But we also conclude that plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence to prove that Colonna had such knowledge when she texted Best immediately before the accident,” said the court.

Guys. Guys. Seriously. Let’s think about this. I know texting while driving is bad, but texting while sitting on your couch? Sure, answering a text while driving is distracting – but so is answering the phone. And putting on makeup. And eating a Big Mac. Do we go after McDonalds for selling Big Macs in a drive-thru? How about we sue the Big Mac eater’s spouse, because she failed to provide him with enough food at home to sate his appetite?

Also, what if I comment on my friend’s Facebook status while he’s driving – and I know he’s driving because he’s on his way to my house? That notification he gets will most likely distract him, especially if he choose to check Facebook to see what I said.

I don’t want to be glib, but can’t we just say that the driver has the ultimate responsibility to put down his phone for 10 goddamn minutes?

Image via Thinkstock

  • http://www.ssrichardmontgomery.com ron

    I am not my brothers keeper and cannot be responsible for his actions especially when I am not present. I am not telepathic so cannot be sure exactly what he is doing or where he is at any given moment, or how he will react to a particular situation if or when it arises. This is even more so if “he” is a “she” as there are too many unknown and impossible to calculate variables which would not affect a “he” (grin, but true) defence rests.

  • Reality

    Our country is getting ridiculous.

    We set up people on the internet for crimes against people who do not even exist and arrest them after they step out of their cars. We set up “bait cars”. We arrest people who are legally growing medical marijuana. We are now holding people that are not even involved in accidents liable for the accident.

    Is there any wonder why the US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners? That doesn’t even count the people detained, on parole, or on probation. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the history of the world and incarcerate more than the Soviets did under the Gulag system.

    Those that think we are not a police state are fooling themselves. Where will all this end?

    • Hmm

      I agree. A friend of mind was arrested in an internet sting. The “victim” pursued him for over a year and invited him 5 times to meet. He turned down 4 and on the 5th time he agreed to meet to find out the truth. He was arrested after he stepped out of the car. He literally never saw a person. Then, in court, they gave him 30 years.

      Oddly, while he was in prison, the vigilantes came under federal investigation and a court in another state ruled they engaged in entrapment. However, right now he can do nothing about his sentence. The courts do not work like people think they do. I am hopeful things will go well for him. He literally has never harmed a soul in his life and literally, never saw a person when he committed his “crime”.

      • http://www.ssrichardmontgomery.com ron

        this seems interesting and full details should be explained about it here to prevent another person being trapped.

  • Adam J

    This is ridiculous. I know texting while driving is bad, but how is the person sending the text supposed to know the reciever is driving in the frist place? Send them a text/call and ask them? Like that makes any sense whatsoever.

  • http://www.thebestundereyeconcealer.com Anonymous

    This is patently absurd. Only in America where everything we think or say is known to the NSA could something like this be dreamed up. Worse though, we are electing the people that are implementing these laws. Who the hell are they? And why do we keep voting them into office?

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    Texting well driving yes but sending a text when not driving?