In a decision that was widely tracked both in and outside of New Jersey, a judge has ruled that the sender of a text message cannot be held responsible for any accidents that take place as a result of the recipient's reading or responding to that text message.
The personal injury lawsuit was filed in connection with a 2009 motor vehicle accident involving a car driven by a 19-year-old man and a motorcycle carrying a husband and wife. According to the suit, the man was answering a text message from his girlfriend when he lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center line and crashed into the motorcycle. Both the husband and wife lost legs during or following the accident.
The man was criminally charged, and pleaded guilty to careless driving, improper use of a cell phone and failure to stay in the lane. The husband and wife filed a civil lawsuit against him as well as against his girlfriend, who they say was "electronically present" in the man's vehicle at the time of the crash, and therefore responsible for their injuries.
Specifically, the lawsuit stated that the girlfriend "knew or should have known" that the man was driving when she sent the text. She testified that she "may have known" that he was behind the wheel.
The girlfriend's attorney argued that it would be unfair to hold her, and texters in general, responsible for the actions of the recipients of their messages, because they have no control over when, were or how they read and respond to the message.
The judge agreed, dismissing the claim against the girlfriend. The husband and wife reportedly plan to appeal.
If you or a family member has been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a distracted driver, please contact Breslin & Breslin for a free consultation with an attorney.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "No Liability Found for Sending Texts to Driver Just Before Crash," Mary Pat Gallagher, May 25, 2012