In a prior blog post I discussed the dangers of texting and driving.  New Jersey bans texting and handheld cell phone use when driving.  Last year lawmakers passed a bill allowing prison time to be imposed for drivers who illegally use a cell phone and cause an injury or death.  Now I tackle a stickier issue: what happens to the person who sends a text message to a driver and then that driver causes a car crash? 

The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division in the case of Kubert v. Best (Docket No. A-1128-12T4) recently held that senders of text messages can be held responsible in civil cases if the texter knows that the recipient is driving and likely to read the text while driving.  The court reasoned that if the sender of a text message knows that the recipient is driving and will read the text immediately, then the sender has taken a foreseeable risk in sending a text at that time.  The court held that the sender of the text has then knowingly engaged in distracting conduct and can be held responsible for the distraction. 

In other words, the court established that when the sender of a text message knows that the text message will reach the driver while operating the vehicle, the sender has a relationship to the public who use the roadways similar to that of a passenger who is physically present in the vehicle.  The court explained that a passenger must avoid distracting the driver and the remote sender of a text message who knows that the recipient of the text is driving must do the same.

Confused?  At the end of the 30-page opinion, the court summarized its decision.  The court stated: “we do not hold that someone who texts to a person driving is liable for that person’s negligent actions; the driver bears responsibility for obeying the law and maintaining safe control of the vehicle.  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.”  

This case is noteworthy in that it puts liability on the sender of a remote text message if the sender knows the recipient is driving and likely to read the message, and the recipient reads the message while driving, and then causes a car crash.

Texting and driving is a real safety issue.  It puts the driver’s life at risk and it puts the general public in harm’s way.  If you have been injured in a car accident because the driver was texting or talking on a cell phone, give me a call to discuss your situation.