Texting a driver could mean you too are in legal trouble. A New Jersey state appeals court has added a new twist on this admonition: Do not knowingly text a driver — or you could be held liable if he or she causes a crash.
We know that texting and driving is particularly dangerous for teens … and the New Jersey case involved two young teens. Georgia law prohibits drivers from texting while driving in Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-241.2. In my law practice as an Atlanta distracted driving accident lawyer, I know that texting and driving is dangerous for all drivers and especially for teen drivers.
In the case before the New Jersey court, an 18 year old driver was driving his pickup truck along a rural highway when his girlfriend texted him. Court records revealed that the two texted one another over 60 times a day. A couple was traveling in the opposite lane of traffic on a motorcycle, when the young teen crossed into their lane of traffic and hit them head on after receiving a text from his girlfriend. The evidence in the case indicated that just before impact, the two teens were sending messages to one another back and forth.
The couple on the bike were badly injured and both had severe injuries, both lost their legs after this horrific crash. The teen that received the text from his girlfriend contacted 911 immediately after the crash. The couple sued him, but in a novel move, the lawsuit also named his girlfriend as a defendant in the case. The driver and the injured couple settled the case, but the issue of liability for the girlfriend remained a legal issue.
We know of no other case involving the issue in this case: can a sending texter be held liable for injuries to third parties in the event the recipient of those texts is driving. If the sending texter is in a different location, but knows that the recipient is driving, there might be a duty not to engage in texting under these circumstances.
The New Jersey court opinion noted that when texts are sent to someone who is driving, and the sender is aware of this fact, it could be a problem for the sender if he or she also knows the likelihood that the driver will check the text while driving. The court noting that the plaintiffs in this case did not present sufficient evidence to prove that the teen sending the text had this level of knowledge. The evidence did not show that the driver’s girlfriend had in any way encouraged her boyfriend to text her while he was behind the wheel and she did not control his actions.
The court’s ruling should be sobering to anyone thinking texting while driving is a good idea or that they will not be the ones to cause a tragedy such as this one. The court’s holding is clearly a look into the future of liability for this activity. They held that a person who sends a text, could actually be held responsible for a crash that occurs because the driver is distracted by the text, but it limited this to very particular criteria — when the sender has some particular knowledge that the texts will be read by the driver.