Texting a New Jersey Driver? You Could Be Liable for Damages!

A New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that a teenage girl who texted her boyfriend just moments before he crashed his truck into two motorcyclists cannot be held liable in a civil suit for their injuries. However, in the written decision two of the three judges on the panel wrote 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.”

With that language in the legal decision, future cases could potentially find the sender of the text liable as well as the driver. So if you’re texting someone in New Jersey, be sure they aren’t driving. Really though, you shouldn’t be texting someone you know is driving in the first place!

Texting while driving is a major public safety hazard. The increasing use of mobile phones behind the wheel has caused thousands of accidents and deaths across the country. Most states have enacted laws against the practice but it continues to be a major problem. Several public safety campaigns have aimed to educate about the danger of texting while driving, most recently the It Can Wait campaign centered around Werner Herzog’s chilling documentary.

An editorial in the New Jersey Star-Ledger explained the precedent set by the court decision:

New Jersey law prohibits texting while driving, but we can’t expect message senders to be clairvoyant — to have the ability to discern exactly when a driver will read the messages that arrive on his phone. You can send someone several texts, with the idea they will all be read later. It should be the driver, not the sender, who bears the responsibility for deciding to click on a message while en route, just as he or she chooses to drink and drive.

Two of the three appellate judges did add an intriguing caveat: It would not be impossible to hold message senders legally responsible in a civil case if it could be proved that they knew the recipient was likely to text while driving.

How might that be demonstrated in court? If the actual messages show that the sender knew the recipient was driving, that could be enough to constitute civil liability. [Emphasis mine]

Presumably, these judges felt it would send the wrong message to institute a rule that the sender of a text message could never be held liable. Texting while driving is the cause of countless accidents, a growing crisis in our society. Imposing liability — as we did with tobacco companies, for people dying from lung cancer — is one way to respond to an endemic problem.

[Via: New Jersey Star Ledger]

  • It may be one way, but it’s not the right way. It is incumbent upon drivers to restrain their impulse to answer texts behind the wheel, not on the sender to know if the person they are texting is driving or not.

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