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Knowingly texting a driver could land you in court

In a New Jersey case, lawyers argue that someone who texted a driver involved in a crash was "electronically in the car." An appeals court agrees that those who text drivers could be liable.

Whose fault?
WPIX Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

"Hey, I'm in the car."

For some these words said on the phone -- or written in a text -- signal that communication isn't a good thing at that moment.

For others, it's just another line in the natural flow of needing to know where people are, but carrying on as normal.

Now, lawyers in New Jersey are trying to explore whether calling or texting someone who you know is driving makes you legally liable in the event of an accident.

As WPIX reports, a New Jersey appeals court opened the law to the possibility that it isn't just the texting driver who might be in trouble.

Attorney Marc Saperstein, an expert in distracted driving cases, told WPIX: "One of the great arguments that my colleague made was to analogize that when you text, as the texter, you are electronically in that car.

It's an alluring argument. It's your fault that the driver was distracted, so you are guilty.

Some might say, though, that the sender has no idea if the receiver will actually read the text.

Perhaps an even simpler retort would be: So now we're going to prosecute anyone sitting in the car who happens to be talking to the driver before an accident? Aren't they distracting the driver too?

In the particular case where the appeals judge made his statement, 18-year-old Kyle Best was driving while texting with his 17-year-old girlfriend.

A matter of 17 seconds after he sent her a text, his truck hit a motorbike head-on. Court documents offer that on the bike were David and Linda Kubert.

The documents state: "The collision severed, or nearly severed, David's left leg. It shattered Linda's left leg, leaving her fractured thighbone protruding out of the skin as she lay injured in the road."

Best's truck had veered across the double center line.

His girlfriend, Shannon Colonna was included in the Kuberts' lawsuit for damages.

The Appeals Court didn't find Colonna liable. However, its ruling stated: "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."

It was held that Colonna had no idea that Best was driving.

One quote during her deposition might sum up the current habits of many: "I'm a young teenager. That's what we do."

She meant texting all the time.

New Jersey is showing signs of having an aggressive -- and, some might say, misguided -- relationship with cell phones.

One bill proposed in June wants to force all drivers involved in accidents to hand their cell phone to police.

Some might think this borders on authoritarian lunacy.

However, when it comes to being a driver, the ultimate responsibility for everyone you do behind the wheel is surely your own.

It's you behind the wheel. It's you who decides whether to pay attention to driving or not.