Be Careful Who You Text: You May Be Held Responsible for Causing a Car Accident
Texting while driving is considered one of the most dangerous epidemics on American roadways, even compared to drunk driving. By commanding the visual, cognitive, and manual attention of a driver, texting can create a crash risk nearly 23 times worse than not texting or using a cell phone, according to statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). With the risks of texting behind the wheel so well known, many states throughout the U.S. have passed laws banning the act. Florida’s texting ban – as a secondary law – will take effect on the first of October.
Although many Americans are aware that drivers can be held accountable for placing others in danger by texting, a recent decision reached by a New Jersey court is beginning to question whether other individuals – specifically the people who send text messages to drivers – can also be held accountable when distracted drivers cause auto accidents.
The New Jersey case stems from an incident in September of 2009 in which an 18-year-old man was texting his 17-year-old girlfriend while driving his pickup truck. While sending a text message, the young man veered into oncoming traffic and struck a man and his wife riding a motorcycle. Both the man and his wife suffered serious injuries and eventually lost their legs.
In court, the victims sued not only the distracted driver, but also his girlfriend. According to their claim, she was responsible for their damages because she played a role in distracting the driver. While they eventually settled with the driver, they lost the case with his girlfriend; that is, until they appealed.
By arguing that the teen girl was “electronically in the car” with the driver at the time of the accident, the victims’ attorney claimed that, just as with someone who was sitting next to him and willfully causing a distraction, she should be held accountable. As a result of this argument, three appeals court judges agreed with the victims’ claim. They ruled that senders of text messages who know that the recipient is driving and texting can be held responsible for distraction and any accident and damages that result. In this particular case, however, the judges did not hold the teen girl accountable, as she was unaware as to whether the recipient was behind the wheel or not.
While the girl was not held accountable in this case, the court’s decision does set a standard that may hold future texters responsible for sending messages to people they know are behind the wheel. For the question of whether or not you can be held liable for sending a text message to a distracted driver, the answer may very well be, “possibly” – at least in New Jersey. Only time will tell how these types of situations are handled in other jurisdictions.
For more information about distracted driving, liability, or the rights of injured auto accident victims, contact a Stuart personal injury lawyer from Crary Buchanan.