Groundbreaking New Jersey ruling states ‘remote texters’ – i.e. a person knowingly texting another person who is driving – can be liable for crashes caused by texting
Have you ever texted a friend who you know is driving and texting you back? Well, according to a recent New Jersey Court ruling, if your friend got in a car accident because of the texting conversation with you, you could be liable.
This court ruling centers around “remote texters” and their responsibility in distracted driving car accidents. A remote texter is defined as “one who is texting from a location remote from the driver of a motor vehicle,” according to the New Jersey case.
In Kubert v. Best and Colonna, the New Jersey Court of Appeals ruled on August 27, 2013, that a “remote texter,” can be held liable for crashes caused by their texting, only if:
The “sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.” (Page 4)
The court explained:
“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.” (Page 11)
Although the ruling came in a New Jersey case, there may be implications for drivers in states like Michigan, where texting and driving is illegal. For more information, take a look at the rules for Michigan’s texting while driving ban.
Here are the details from Kubert v. Best and Colonna:
In September 2009, Kyle Best, 18, drove his pickup truck over the double center line in Mine Hill Township in New Jersey and slammed into the motorcycle being properly operated by David and Linda Kubert.
Even though texting while driving is illegal in New Jersey, Best had been texting back and forth with his friend Shannon Colonna immediately prior to the crash.
As a result of the crash, both of the Kuberts had to have their left legs amputated.
The Kuberts sued and settled with Kyle Best, but their lawsuit against Colonna was dismissed by the trial court.
Liability for remote texters
The New Jersey appellate court ultimately upheld the dismissal on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Colonna knew that Best would look at his text while behind the wheel.
Still, the Kubert court broke very significant legal ground by recognizing the concept of “remote texter” liability for the very first time. The court stated:
“[W]e … conclude that liability is not established by showing only that the sender directed the message to a specific identified recipient, even if the sender knew the recipient was then driving. We conclude that additional proofs are necessary to establish the sender’s liability, namely, that the sender also knew or had special reason to know that the driver would read the message while driving and would thus be distracted from attending to the road and the operation of the vehicle.” (Page 22)
How content of text messages are a lesson for future cases involving “remote texting”
Phone records are essential to establishing liability both against a driver who is texting and a “remote texter,” as they establish the timing and sequence of texts surrounding the texting-related crash.
But as the Kubert opinion makes clear, the content of the actual text messages may even be more important, especially when trying to prove whether the “remote texter” “knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.”