NJ court says remote texters risk civil liability in accidents

Car accidents resulting from distracted driving due to texting may lead to criminal charges and civil liability for the texting driver; however, a 2013 decision by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, opened the door for possible civil legal action against the person sending the text, as well.

According to legal records site, Leagle.com, in 2009 a man and his wife lost their left legs when they were struck by a vehicle while riding their motorcycle. Cellphone records indicated that the driver of the vehicle, an 18-year-old male, was exchanging text messages with a 17-year-old female friend when his vehicle veered into the oncoming lane, striking the left side of the motorcycle.

The court was asked to rule whether or not the female friend could be held liable for the accident along with the male driver. The friend could not recall what she and the driver ha texted about on the day of the accident in a deposition, so she wasn’t sure if the driver was driving. However, in the same interview, the friend also admitted that she didn’t pay attention to that detail, citing her young age.

In its decision, the court found that, a legal responsibility existed on the part of a person sending a text concerning the safety of the public. However, the court clarified this to situations where the person sending the text knew it would be read by someone behind the wheel. The court also stated that the actions of the driver are not the legal responsibility of the person sending the text.

According to USA Today, the court’s ruling in the case indicates that liability hinges on whether the person sending the text was reasonably aware that the person receiving it was driving. If the plaintiff in a texting and driving case is able to show that the text sender “knew” the recipient would read the message while driving, the sender could be held liable for the resulting accident.