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

    August 30, 2013
    Josh Wolford

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


Josh Wolford
Josh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf