Can Texters be Held Liable in Auto Accidents?

Texting 000007022176A New Jersey Appellate Court recently ruled in a case on whether a person (a third party) could be held responsible for an accident because they texted the driver.

In 2011 alone, over 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the court lay down a new standard of responsibility: texters could be held responsible in civil court for distracting a driver, provided they had a good reason to believe that the driver would actually respond.

The court’s language says “when the sender ‘has actual knowledge or special reason to know’ … from prior texting experience or otherwise, that the recipient will view the text while driving, the sender has breached a duty of care to the public by distracting the driver.”

The court also addressed how technology users interact with reality, by arguing that when a “sender knows that the text will reach the driver while operating a vehicle, the sender has a relationship to the public who use the roadways similar to that of a passenger physically present in the vehicle.”

This is the first time that a U.S. court has ruled and held that someone can be electronically present, although not physically present, in a motor vehicle with knowledge that the other person is operating a motored vehicle and the two texting can be civilly responsible for damages.

While the ruling is new and very limited, and most likely will be debated and looked at by other states, the important message for drivers is that they should not drive distracted, including putting their phone away.