In most states across the country, texting while driving is a crime – although how serious of a crime that may be varies significantly. However, it has not been until know discussed whether there was any liability for a person who is texting the driver. A New Jersey state appeals court has held that one who texts a driver could be liable if that driver than causes an automobile accident.
In that case, the driver was a teenager. He was driving down a rural road when he received a text message from another teenager. The two exchanged more than 60 text messages that day. Seventeen seconds after the driver sent a text, he was on the phone with 911 because an accident had occurred – he had drifted across the center line and hit another vehicle head-on.
What made the case interesting was that the victims not only sued the driver, but the individual with whom he was exchanging text messages. The victims’ attorneys argued that texting the driver and distracting him was analogous to a passenger in the car distracting the driver. The court of appeals agreed, holding that if the sender of the text messages knows the recipient is driving and texting, a court may hold the sender responsible for distraction and hold her liable for the accident.
Of course, civil liability is quite different from criminal liability and there are many circumstances where someone can be held civilly liable for something that has not been criminalized. However, the case is interesting and may point towards a movement to potentially criminalize more conduct as it relates to texting and driving.
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.