P.I. Pulse: Texting a Driver Could Land You in Court

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We all know that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous – in fact, in 2011, 1.3 million auto accidents involved cell phones. And take a look at this frightening statistic: texting while driving makes a car crash 23 times more likely. So, we are all on the same page about the fact that if someone is driving, they should not be text messaging. But who else can be held responsible in a text messaging-induced car crash, beside the negligent driver who was text messaging while actually behind the wheel of the vehicle?Texting a Driver

Well, according to the judicial system in the state of New Jersey, someone can –in theory – be held liable for a car crash if that person was the one sending the text message to the negligent driver. In other words, you don’t have to be both the person driving and the person texting to be held liable; you might be held liable if you were the sender of the text (with the recipient being the driver).

A couple, who were injured in a car crash in 2009, had already settled with the text messaging driver of the car that hit them when they filed a lawsuit against the negligent 18-year-old’s girlfriend, the sender of the texts that he was reading. On appeal, the Court did not find the girlfriend liable because it had not been proven that she was aware that the recipient of the text messages – her boyfriend – was driving at the time. Nevertheless, despite the court’s finding that the girlfriend was not liable, this is still significant because the court did recognize the validity of the argument that considers people knowingly texting a driver to be liable for a resulting car crash.

So, in order to be held liable in the manner described above, the plaintiff in the case would have to prove that you, the hypothetical defendant, knew (or perhaps that a reasonable person should have known) that the recipient of your text message was behind the wheel of a vehicle. How are you supposed to know that someone on the other end of a wireless line is behind a wheel? If that person explicitly told you they’re going for a drive in 5 minutes and you text them in 10 minutes, it can be demonstrated that you were aware that the recipient of your text was driving. Clearly there are more examples of someone not knowing that their texting partner is not driving than there are of someone knowing exactly what the recipient of the texts is doing, but that does not detract from the feasibility of a text sender, not in the car, being held liable for a crash, and theoretically having to pay large sums of money in a settlement or jury award to the injured party.

There have been a lot of hypotheticals in this blog, because the information contained above is the result of a finding of a court, not the result of a new statute or law. Texting someone who is driving is not a crime given the current laws on the books, but you can still find yourself in court, as described above, by being sued by individuals harmed in a crash caused by the recipient of your text message. Perhaps texting a driver will someday be a crime, but even though it isn’t at the current time, it is a good idea to never text a driver; in fact, don’t text someone if you think they might be driving. You could end up causing a car accident that could injure your friend, your family member, others, etc., and the chaos might land you in court yourself.

For more information on the dangers of text messaging as they relate to personal injury law, please reach out to us at the Law Offices of Aronberg & Aronberg by calling 561-266-9191 or emailing daronberg@aronberg.com.