Text Message sender could be liable for car wreck in NJ appeals court

A New Jersey appeals court has found true an interesting set of conclusions this month in going over a case involving a car wreck from 2009. In this case, the driver of a vehicle in Mine Hill Township, New Jersey, was texting and driving when he hit a motorcycle carrying Linda and David Kubert – who both subsequently lost their legs as a result of the crash. The Kuberts settled their case against Best, continuing then to sue Shannon Colonna – the person on the other end of the phone.

This second case was dismissed in 2012 by a Morris County, and was taken up by the appeals court presiding over the case this month. This appeals court found the first dismissal to be correct, suggesting that Colonna "aided and abetted" Best knowingly, distracting him from the road. What they did find, on the other hand, was a new term which suggests that a person must be "electronically present" in order to have taken part in the wreck.

"To summarize our conclusions, 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.

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." – NJ Appeals Court

The plaintiffs and their lawyer Stephen Weinstein made clear that they "applaud" the appeals court for their role in "carving out a new cause for action." This cause for action is against a remote sender of a text who can now be perceived as "electronically present" in a vehicle if they know that the message they are sending is going to distract the driver.

The appeals court held that the sender of any text message should be able to assume that the recipient will practice safe and legal driving – only accepting the text when it's safe and legal to do so. They expand, on the other hand, by noting that the sender could still be held responsible.

"However, if the sender knows that the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately, then the sender has taken a foreseeable risk in sending a text at that time. The sender has knowingly engaged in distracting conduct, and it is not unfair also to hold the sender responsible for the distraction." – NJ Appeals Court

So keep that in mind if you're sending a message to someone and you're situated in New Jersey. The Kuberts are currently discussing with Weinstein the possibility of filing another appeal with the New Jersey Supreme Court in order that claims against Colonna can be reinstated.

VIA: Daily Record