Someone Causes an Accident While Reading Your Text? You Could Be Liable
We’ve all seen it: the car weaving in and out of its lane, speeding up or slowing down without warning or reason. More often than not, the driver is texting or talking on the phone, too busy to pay attention to the road.
This is called distracted driving, and it is a deadly problem. Driving while talking on the phone, texting, surfing the web, or doing any other activity that takes your attention away from the road significantly increases your risk of a crash. In fact, thousands of people are injured or killed each year in accidents caused by distracted driving.
In response, law enforcement and lawmakers are cracking down on distracted driving. According to Distraction.gov, 41 states have banned texting while driving, 12 have banned all handheld cell phone use, with Arizona banning all cell phone use by school bus drivers.
But do these laws go far enough to reduce distracted driving?
In a recent New Jersey court of appeals case— Kubert v. Best — a couple involved in a motorcycle accident sought to hold the girlfriend of the driver legally responsible because she was texting him at the time of the accident.
According to the American Bar Association, the couple was riding on a motorcycle on a highway when a truck crossed into their lane and hit them. The driver had been texting his girlfriend throughout the day, with the last text occurring 25 seconds before the accident. Because of the crash, both motorcycle riders lost their left leg. “The couple settled with the driver for his insurance policy limits of $500,000, but continued the case against the girlfriend,” reported the ABA.
The court ruled in favor of the driver’s girlfriend, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove that the girlfriend knew that her boyfriend would look at the messages while driving. An appellate court also agreed with the trial court’s ruling, but it did make one important point: “We affirm the trial court’s order dismissing plaintiffs’ complaint against the sender of the text messages, but we do not adopt the trial court’s reasoning that a remote texter does not have a legal duty to avoid sending text messages to one who is driving.”
This statement by the court appears to have set up a standard of care for texters, at least in the state of New Jersey. Just as the court can hold passengers partly responsible for an accident if they distract the driver, the judges reasoned, it can also hold texters responsible.
However, this ruling did not go so far as to say that just anyone can be held responsible for an accident when the driver reads his or her text and causes an accident. Under this ruling, a person could only be held liable for an accident, the court stated, when he or she “knows or has special reason to know that the intended recipient is driving and is likely to read the text message while driving.” For example, a person could be found responsible after texting someone he or she knows is driving with a request for an immediate response.
What do you think of this case? Should both the driver and the person texting the driver be held responsible when distracted driving causes an accident?
If you’ve been injured in Arizona in an accident with a driver who was on the phone at the time of the crash, you should speak with a Scottsdale personal injury attorney about your rights. Please feel free to contact us to learn your options.