In a first-in-the-nation holding, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that sending a text to a driver you know is behind the wheel can land you in hot water.
The case involved a terrible crash where a driver who received a text drifted across the center line, striking a couple on a motorcycle and inflicting horrible injuries. The court ruled that a “the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.” In other words, a person who texts knowing the reader is driving may be held responsible for a crash caused by that driver.
This looks to be the first time such remote liability has been imposed on the person sending the text to a driver. The court analogized it to the obligation a passenger in a car has to not distract a driver.
Does this analogy hold water? It will be interesting to see – unlike a situation where there is a passenger in a car and the driver cannot eliminate them as a distraction, in a texting situation, the driver simply can not look at their phone. That’s it. Distraction eliminated. Putting the responsibility on the person sending the text is a very broad expansion of liability, and we will want to watch how this new area of law develops.
In an interesting twist, the New Jersey court ultimately declined to find the person sending texts liable. The court noted that this particular texter sent hundreds of texts a day, without any notice of what the recipients were doing at the times they were sent, including whether her recipients were driving.
Regardless of legal liability, don’t sent texts to people you know are driving. Don’t tempt them to text while driving – it can wait until they stop.