Don’t Text Drivers: You Could Be Sued if They Crash

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A New Jersey appeals court ruled that people have a responsibility not to text people they have reason to believe are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

It’s well understood by now that you shouldn’t text and drive. But, a court says, you shouldn’t text drivers either.

A New Jersey appeals court ruled that those who do could be held liable if the driver causes a collision, The Wall Street Journal says. The catch is that they must have reason to think the recipient is driving or will read the text while driving.

“We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted,” the court opinion says.

The court says the text sender has a responsibility to the public much like a passenger in the car would. In both cases, you shouldn’t distract someone who is driving.

The state’s laws already prohibit texting while driving and using a cellphone at all behind the wheel unless it’s hands-free, except in specific emergency situations.

The case was originally about a couple who were riding a motorcycle when a Chevrolet pickup swerved into their lane and hit them, the WSJ says. The 18-year-old male driver of the pickup was texting with a 17-year-old female friend at the time, phone records showed. (They did not show the contents of the messages.) Both motorcyclists lost their left legs in the crash, which occurred in 2009. They settled with the driver, but appealed a trial court’s ruling about the friend.

The appeals court rejected the lower court’s ruling that the 17-year-old who was texting with the Chevy driver could not be held liable under any circumstances, the WSJ says. However, it upheld the decision that she was not liable because there was not enough evidence to suggest she knew he was driving at the time.

Stacy Johnson

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