distracted drivingA New Jersey appeals court has recently decided a case involving a “remote texter” involved in a traffic accident that occurred in 2009.  A remote texter is defined as a person who sends a text message to a recipient. In this case, the recipient is someone who is driving. While it is negligent for a driver to send text messages while driving, if an accident occurs due to the driver being distracted from receiving texts, can the remote texter be held accountable in court? The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court says YES.

The New Jersey court ruling stipulates, if the individual sending the text knew that the recipient was driving upon viewing or replying, then the remote texter can be held accountable by law for the damages of the injured party. That being said, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove the remote texter had knowledge the recipient was driving while viewing and/or replying to the text messages.

New Jersey Texting Case

17-year-old Shannon Colonna, of New Jersey, was brought to court regarding a traffic accident that occurred in September 2009. Colonna sent text messages that were received by driver, 18-year-old Kyle Best. Best received the last text just seconds before causing an accident that resulted in serious injuries to two motorcyclists.

The court concluded that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is known to be driving. “We conclude that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving,” explained the court. However, the court also concluded this specific case lacked sufficient evidence in three ways:

  •  That Colonna had any knowledge of Best’s driving when she texted him;
  •  That Colonna encouraged Best to text while driving; and
  •  That any special relationship existed between the two that would imply Colonna’s ability to control Best’s conduct while driving.

The court was not aware of the content of the messages between Colonna and Best. Even if there was reason to believe Colonna had sent a message that required response, the inherent act of sending such a message does not actively encourage the recipient to read it and respond promptly. The court explained, “Even if a reasonable inference can be drawn that she sent messages requiring responses, the act of sending such messages, by itself, is not active encouragement that the recipient read the text and respond immediately, that is, while driving and in violation of the law.”

The plaintiffs in this case had a previous settlement against Kyle Best. Although Colonna was excused for lack of evidence, the conclusions of this ruling may affect future cases involving texting while driving.

Do Not Text While Driving and Do Not Text Someone Known to be Driving

Ultimately, the driver of an automobile must not engage in activity that will cause unnecessary distractions while driving, and viewing or replying to text messages constitutes an unnecessary distraction. Therefore, and while the driver has the ultimate responsibility, remote texters should not encourage unsafe driving by texting someone known to be driving at that time. Regardless of any potential liability, it simply is not safe.

If you have questions or have been involved in an accident resulting from texting, please contact Lieser Law Firm for assistance.