A case in New Jersey has raised the question, can a remote texter be held responsible for a texting-and-driving car accident? In New Jersey, texting while driving is already against various jurisdictions, but a lawsuit last year raised concern about the person sending a text to someone whom they know is driving, and whether or not they can be held liable.
In 2013, a trial was brought to the New Jersey appeals court in Morristown. The case involved an accident in 2009, where 17-year-old Shannon Colonna texted her friend Kyle Best, who was reportedly driving and distracted by her text message when he crashed his pickup truck into David and Linda Kubert, who were on a motorcycle.
Both of the Kuberts lost a leg in the crash. The Kuberts sought to sue both Best and Colonna, however the state superior court dismissed their claim against Colonna, which was followed by an appeal. Kyle Best settled the his civil case by using the entirety of his $500,000 auto insurance.
The case raised questions that have previously not been addressed. The Kuberts’ attorney, Stephen Weinstein, stated that the court should enforce a duty of care on those sending text messages to recipients they know are driving at the time, and likely to be reading the messages while driving. In opposition, Colonna’s representative Joseph McGlone claimed that his client is not responsible for Best’s misconduct.
“My client doesn’t know he’s driving, she doesn’t know his schedule. She cannot control when Kyle Best reads the messages,” said McGlone in the three-judge Appellate Division panel. Judge Michael A. Guadagno responded to McGlones assertion, saying “other than not to send it to begin with if she knows he is driving.”
Another panel member, Judge Victor Ashrafi, offered another insight to the new concept. “The question for us is, how do we write up that duty to it is applied the right way?” he asked. McGlone went on to defend his client by claiming that Best had not been distracted by the text received, but by the text he had just sent to Colonna. Ashrafi challenged him, saying, “but for her sending the text to him, he wouldn’t be looking down.”
Third panel member Judge Marianne Espinosa pointed out that the exact details of the event will have to remain unclear, because the text messages were not recorded or preserved. It was reported that best and Colonna exchanged 62 texts during the several hours prior to the crash.
It is estimated that the number of people injured in distracted driving crashes, including texting while driving, increased 9 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 387,000 people to 421,000 incidents. At any given moment in the U.S., approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or other electronic devices while driving. Though texting while driving is extremely prevalent today, no state bans all cell phone use for drivers, though 13 states have primary enforcement laws which prohibit cell phone use while driving.