Liability for a distracted driving accident just took a significant turn: a person texting a driver from a remote location can be held liable to anyone injured if the driver was distracted by the incoming text. Specifically, a New Jersey appellate court held that the sender of such a text message could potentially be liable only if that person knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would look at the text while driving. While this decision only governs what happens on New Jersey roads, it is possible that courts in Chicago and throughout the country will take notice of this fairly surprising case of first impression.
In this case, an accident causing serious injuries to two motorcyclists took place within 30 seconds of when the driver last received a text from another person. Essentially, the court is suggesting that a remote texter has a legal duty to refrain from sending text messages to a person who they believe will view a text while driving. Here, the court ultimately determined that there was insufficient evidence to show that the remote texter had the requisite knowledge that the recipient would view the text while driving. Specifically, the court noted that there was no evidence that the remote texter “actively encouraged” the recipient to text her while behind the wheel.
The court looked at the sequence of text messages in relation to the time that the 911 call was placed after the accident. It appeared that there was 17 seconds between the driver’s sending a text to the remote texter and the time of the 911 call. The court continued by pointing out that the driver and the remote texter did not have a special relationship by which the latter could control the driver’s conduct. No one knows the content of those text messages.
Because of these last two items, even if one could reasonably infer that the texts required some sort of a response from the driver, the act of sending the messages, alone, was not considered “active encouragement” for the recipient to read and then respond to the text immediately. Significantly, the court did NOT hold that a person who texts another who is driving is liable for that person’s negligent actions. The court clearly points out that the driver bears the responsibility for following the law and driving a vehicle safely.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn understands the seriousness of distracted driving and recently signed a bill prohibiting the use of handheld devices while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of many car accidents every year. Distractions can take the form of texting, talking on a cell phone, and using social media applications and GPS devices. Taking your eyes off of the road, for even a few moments, can lead to tragic consequences. According to the Illinois State Police, the use of a cell phone while driving increases your chance of getting into an accident by 400%. The results of these accidents can be devastating. Victims can suffer broken bones, traumatic head injuries, paralysis and even death. If you have been involved in a car accident that was caused by a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. It is important to contact a local injury attorney with experience handling these kinds of cases.