Text message sender sued for encouraging distracted driving

A New Jersey judge will decide if a text message sender can be held liable for a distracted driving accident.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
2 min read

Two victims seriously injured in a distracted driving accident are suing not only the man looking at his mobile phone when he should have been driving, but also the person sending him text messages. A New Jersey judge will rule later this month if a text message sender can be held liable for a distracted driving accident, according to an article in the Daily Record.

In 2009, David and Linda Kubert were struck head-on by a truck as they rode their motorcycle. The driver of the truck, Kyle Best, was texting back and forth with Shannon Colonna when the vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic, striking the motorcycle. The motorcycle riders had part of their left legs amputated as a result of the collision. Best, who was 19 at the time, pleaded guilty to using a handheld cellphone while driving, careless driving, and failure to maintain a lane, reports the Record. For his crimes, the teenager was sentenced to $775 in fines and community service delivering anti-distracted-driving lectures to 14 high schools.

However, the battle for damages is just getting started. The Kuberts were initially suing just Best, but later added Colonna to the lawsuit. Their lawyer is claiming that Colonna can be held liable for their injuries because she may have known Best was driving, and by texting him was encouraging distracted driving.

Colonna's lawyer is asking the judge to dismiss her from the lawsuit, arguing that his client was not present in the vehicle, and assumed her text messages would be read at a safe time. If the judge decides not to dismiss the lawsuit, the case could set a new legal precedent. It could also chill a lot of distracted driving.

Including New Jersey, most states already have some variation of a rule on the books that bans texting while driving -- especially for teenagers. And yet they still do it anyway. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that despite knowing the dangers of distracted driving, half of teens admit to talking on the phone while driving, and almost 30 percent say they still text behind the wheel. New Jersey reported 3,351 motor vehicle crashes by drivers using mobile phones, of which 1,019 resulted in injury in 2010, according to the Asbury Park Press.

The rate of accidents despite the state's anti-distracted-driving laws makes the proposed federal ban seem redundant, and most likely ineffective. But perhaps the threat of liability for parties on both ends of the communications can stop what tickets and traffic violations can't. If drivers find a lot fewer willing to text with them, that may solve the problem all together. The judge is expected to rule on the dismissal on May 25.

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Source: Daily Record