People who Knowingly Text To a Driver can be Held Liable for Accidents

Monday, September 02, 2013

Drivers shouldn’t text while driving, most people agree, and now an appeals court in Jersey City, New Jersey, has added this twist: texters shouldn’t text drivers—and may be forced to pay up if they do so knowingly. It is already illegal to text while driving in New Jersey.


The ruling came in the case of Kubert v. Best. Linda and David Kubert both lost their left legs when their motorcycle was struck in September 2009 by 18-year-old Kyle Best, who got distracted while texting with longtime friend Shannon Colonna, then seventeen. After settling their lawsuit with Best, the Kuberts sought damages from Colonna, claiming that her texting to Best while he was driving was negligent and caused their injuries.


The appeals court agreed with the Kuberts—up to a point.


“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,” wrote Judge Victor Ashrafi.


Seeking to prevent lawsuits by drivers distracted by such texts, the court emphasized that “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.” This means that drivers cannot use the case to shift blame, and liability, by suing people who text them while driving.


But the Kuberts’ victory may prove hollow, because the panel affirmed the trial judge who dismissed the claims against Colonna in 2012, finding that they “failed to develop evidence tending to prove that Colonna not only knew that Best was driving when she texted him…but that she knew he would violate the law and immediately view and respond to her text.”

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Judges: Text Sender can be Held Civilly Liable if Driver Crashes (by Peggy Wright, Daily Record)

Liability May Follow Those Who Text Drivers (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Kubert v. Best (New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division) (pdf)


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