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I don't believe it is much of a surprise that a New Jersey Judge has ruled that someone sending a text to another who is driving and then involved in a collision may be held responsible to the injured victims. I say that because most judges want to see legal precedent before establishing a new duty or set of rules for society to follow. The duty or rules usually come from the legislature, not the bench.

If we flash forward 20 years, I think we will see laws in place that speak to this very fact scenario. We're just not there yet as a society. I tell people all the time the law moves very slowly. The example I use is that dust mites move faster than legislators or the law.

The simple facts of the case in New Jersey are: Kyle Best was driving his pickup when he crossed the center line striking David and Linda Kubert on their motorcycle. Mr. and Mrs. Kubert each lost a leg. The cause of the collision is still a fact question for the jury. Cell phone records indicate Mr. Best was communicating by text with his girlfriend, Ms. Colonna.

The sad outcome of the case to date: Two innocent victims will live the rest of their lives without a leg because of the selfish acts of people texting one another. Why? What did Mr. and Mrs. Kubert do to deserve a life sentence without a leg?

The evidence in the case thus far shows that on the date of the collision, the teenagers sent 62 texts to one another. Colonna testified before being a defendant in the case that she texts because she's a teenager and that's what teenagers do. Again, the question. What text from or among teenagers is so special or important that innocent victims should suffer through a life sentence of pain and suffering?

I hope I live to see laws passed and legal precedent to support the claims of the non-present texter. Our civil system works to allow the evidence to be presented as to whether the texter knew or should have known that the text receiver was driving or operating machinery at the time of the collision. If the texter knew or should have known that receiving texts would be dangerous to innocent victims then I say we should allow liability to be found against the texter.

Only remaining question today for me on this issue, would insurance apply to the texter and if so would it be homeowner's coverage?

Drive Safe – XTHATXT

Say No to Distracted Driving

Jeff Weinstein

www.LonghornLawyer.com

14 Comments

  1. Gravatar for Jeff Weinstein

    Will,

    Thanks for the comment. I've said many times that a $50.00 fine will not change much. In the NJ case, I think the fine was south of a $1000.00 and a requirement to speak at 14 (I think) schools on the dangers of distracted driving. Doesn't sound like a fair trade for two legs.

    Jeff

  2. Gravatar for John Nichols

    Well,I am a bit uncomfortable assigning blame legally to the girlfriend. It is still the responsibility of the driver to drive safely.

    I agree that the penalty should be the same as drunk driving. 62 texts? Sounds addictive to me...

  3. Gravatar for Rusty Shakleford

    Receiving a text is just the evolution of email which is the evolution of snail mail. If I'm checking my email while driving, can victims sue Google or anyone who has sent me an email recently? The argument is absurd. Much like the people who try to sue gun manufacturers after being victimized in a crime involving a firearm. I guess since it's bring equated to drunk driving, we better notify Annheiser Busch and all businesses that serve alcohol that they're about to become responsible parties to all drunk driving injuries and deaths. What has become of personal responsibility?

  4. Gravatar for barb

    I to have a hard time blaming the girlfriend for her testing when the driver should've ignored the phone my husband and I drive truck a cellphone usage in a semi is a 2700.00 ticket in a car its 50- 150 fine maybe drivers in cars should suffer same consequences as commercial vehicle if they start hitting hard in the pocket book then maybe someone will start to pay attention to their driving .

  5. Gravatar for John

    While I agree that texting while driving is a terrible idea and should carry some sort of penalty, I don't see how it's the non-driving party's fault if someone crashes while reading or sending a text message on the road. I always wait to send or read texts until I have pulled over or stopped, and generally only answer the phone to say, "I'm driving, I'll call you back."

    In short, the responsibility here lies with the driver, and should not be on the girlfriend. The problem I see here is this: if you can legally hold the other party accountable in text messaging accidents, why not accidents after phone calls, or emails, given that most smartphones will alert people when one is received? Setting such a precedent would make any form of electronic communication a risky proposition.

    In fact, I think holding the non-driving party responsible for a crash during a phone call makes much more sense - text messages are not, as you imply above, inherently selfish. A wait before a reply is almost a given. Phone calls, however, demand much more constant attention.

  6. Gravatar for Gene Turner

    I think that if you're driving, your phone or mobile device stays in the glove box or console. The person texting you cannot be help liable because they had no idea you were driving. There is no way teenagers can use their age as an excuse. If they want to take part in an adult activity such as driving they need to take the responsibility of adults and not text and drive. This whole thing is a matter of teenagers failing to take responsibility.

  7. Gravatar for Jeff Weinstein

    I appreciate all the comments. People are addicted to cell phones in a way that is truly beyond explanation. You have a teenage boy and a teenage girl is sending him messages and we expect him to not be responsive? Not going to happen. This is not the same thing as blaming gun manufacturers for making guns. Gun manufacturers expect everyone to use guns safely. Cell Phone manufacturers expect cell phone users to utilize the cell phone 24/7 so that more money can be made charging us for time. Cell phone manufacturers have the technology right now to stop a phone from working when in motion but the public isn't ready for it today. I would like to see more costly tickets - that might slow some of the addiction. If you don't think teenagers are addicted to their phones, take one to dinner tonight and try to have an eye to eye conversation that lasts longer than 5 minutes. I encourage all of us to continue the discussion no matter which side of the fence you are on. Jeff

  8. Gravatar for John

    "You have a teenage boy and a teenage girl is sending him messages and we expect him to not be responsive? Not going to happen." As 22-year-old myself, yes, that's exactly what I expect. Make the penalties for texting while driving larger, and it'll be less of a problem - teenagers aren't real bright, true, but they understand the words "$500 fine."

  9. Gravatar for John Nichols

    Though your point is well take about teenage boys or girls, the legal precedent should not be set to hold the non-driving texter responsible even if they are teens! Responsibility is on the driver! Period. As someone else posted, it is an adult responsibility and it comes with the license, despite the age. Place a large fine on the driver and hold them legally responsible should a accident occur.

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