Sending A Text Message To A Driver Could Get You Sued
September 1, 2013

Sending A Text Message To A Driver Could Get You Sued

If, perchance, you find yourself in the Garden State and if, perchance, you need to shoot a text message to another person driving down one of New Jersey’s highways, and if, heaven forbid, that person is involved in an accident, then you may be held liable in any impending litigation.

Sounds crazy, yes?

An accident that left a married motorcycling couple without their legs in 2009 has led to a new law prohibiting texting someone if you have a “special reason” for knowing they’re behind the wheel.

A panel of three judges in an appeals court came to this conclusion this week after a trial last year which found that the girlfriend of the teenage boy driving the truck that struck the couple did not know her beau was driving and, therefore, could not be held responsible. The couple, the Huberts, tried to sue the young woman for her role in the accident.

Her presumed role? Sending a text seconds before the collision.

The Huberts appealed the decision, their lawyer saying the young woman was “electronically present” in the car and therefore, should also be held responsible. This week’s decision held up the ruling that said either party in the text conversation can be held responsible in an accident, but they agreed with the lower court’s decision last year; there simply wasn’t enough data to prove the young woman knew her boyfriend was in the car.

In other words, if a case like this happens to go to court again and the victims want to sue the sender AND the recipient, they’ll have to prove somehow they knew the recipient was driving; that likely means getting text records, going through the carriers, obtaining warrants, etc. This is probably de rigueur for legal professionals (or their gophers), but doesn’t it just seem easier to, I don’t know, not text in your car?

The crux of matter here is the personal decision every driver must make to not take texts behind the wheel. It’s easy enough to simply let it slide from time to time. After all, more often than not you’re probably reading an incoming text that simply reads “Ok,” “On my way,” or “dinner?” You glance down once or twice at these messages, nothing horrific happens, and suddenly you’re invincible.

I do it too, gentle reader. I’m not proud of it, but I do.

It’s hard to believe, however, that the texter in this relationship can be just as responsible for ramming head on into a lovely couple on a motorcycle as the person behind the wheel.

We should all be looking out for one another, yes…but at some point we must all be held responsible for our own actions. Though some have tried, suing the texter and the textee is as foolish as suing McDonalds because their burgers are just too easy to get to.

And another point: if something as simple as sending a text will leave you open to a lawsuit, what about email push notifications, Amber Alerts or any other notification you may receive on your iPhone? Is Apple then held responsible for distracting a driver? Just a moment ago, and this is true, I received a text message from Verizon Wireless alerting me that my bill is due. What if I had received that message whilst behind the wheel of the car? What if the distraction from that text message, sent to me by a huge corporation, threw me into an accident? Who pays then?

The entire situation is terrible, but the solution might be worse.

Image Credit: Peter Gudella / Shutterstock

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