Can a Person Who Texts a Driver be Held Liable?
Texting and driving can be lethal. The news is full of accounts of drivers – mostly young people – who get distracted by their cell phone, crash, and seriously injure somebody. So far, liability has been limited to the person who was negligently driving and who caused the crash and injuries. A new texting and driving case in New Jersey asks the novel question of whether the person who sent the text to the negligent driver can also be held liable.
Crash Caused Terrible Injuries.
In this case, David and Linda Kubert sued Kyle Best for injuries they suffered when Mr. Best crossed the center line in his car and collided with the Kuberts on their motorcycle. Mr. Best was 19 at the time, as was his co-defendant, Ms. Shannon Colonna. Mr. Best admitted liability – he said that immediately before the crash he looked down at his cell phone to see a text message sent by his co-defendant.
The Kuberts were seriously injured. Each lost a leg because of the crash and are saddled with a lifetime of physical pain and financial hardship. After filing a lawsuit against Mr. Best, the Kuberts added Ms. Colonna as a second defendant. They alleged that she aided and abetted Mr. Best’s negligence by texting him when she knew or should have known that he was driving – and that he might be distracted from his driving.
Mrs. Colonna’s lawyer has argued that his client should be dismissed from the lawsuit because she did not have a legal “duty of care” in this case. He argued that his client had the right to assume that Mr. Best would read her text message at a safe time, not when he was driving. The lawyer said that it’s not fair or reasonable for Ms. Colonna to be sued because she was not in the car and had no way to control when Mr. Best was going to read her message.
In response, the Kubert’s attorney argued that the cell phone records of both defendants’ showed that they exchanged multiple text messages in the minute, and mere seconds, before the crash. He said that Ms. Colonna may not have been physically present when Mr. Best plowed into the Kuberts, but she was “electronically present.”
Punishment was Less than the Crime.
Mr. Best has had to account for his actions, but the punishment seems to be less than the circumstances warrant. He pleaded guilty to three charges that arose from the crash: using a hand-held cell phone while driving, careless driving, and failure to stay in his lane. He was ordered to speak to 14 high schools about the perils of texting and driving, and to pay about $775 in fines. However, his driver’s license was not suspended.
Effect on North Carolina Personal Injury Cases.
A decision of a state court judge in New Jersey is not binding on North Carolina courts. However, whatever decision the judge makes will shed another light on the law of distracted driving. If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the attorneys at Cannon Law, P.C., in Waynesville, North Carolina, for an up-to-date consultation.