You send a text message to your friend who is on the way to your house, or you are texting your boss to let him know you’re not coming into work and he’s driving. While busy reading your message, your friend hits a child crossing the street, or your boss rear-ends another vehicle. Before you know it, you’re faced with a personal injury lawsuit. Sound bizarre? Maybe not, if a recent New Jersey court decision has anything to say about it.
Here’s what the New Jersey Appellate court found in their opinion in Linda Kubert vs. Kyle Best:
“The sender of a text message has a duty under the common law of negligence to refrain from sending a text to a person who the sender knows, or has special reason to know, is then driving and is likely to read the text while driving.”
Though the court didn’t find enough evidence that the sender of the texted breached any duties, the rule made it clear that there’s a possibility that this kind of liability exists.
Let’s break this down a little bit: When it comes to civil tort liability — which means being responsible for any harm or damages caused by something you did or didn’t do — the first thing the injured person must show is that you owed them some kind of duty of care. If you have no such duty, you’re not liable for any resulting injuries. It’s that simple.
What we see in this case is opening the door for tort liability to extend to the sender of a text message, saying that if they know or have “special reason” to know that they’re sending a text to someone who is driving, they owe a legal duty — an obligation to anyone who may be injured by the driver’s inattention in the seconds spent reading the message — not to hit “Send.”
Some people argue that this is too far of a stretch of the law. It is also argued that drivers are mainly responsible for what they do and don’t do behind the wheel. Every state has its own distracted driving laws, most states have laws against texting and driving. If a driver is found to have violated these traffic laws in connection with a car accident, then the driver is liable for any harm caused to other drivers, passengers, and bystanders. A driver has a duty of reasonable care, and within that duty, they should not use a phone while driving, regardless of who may or may not be texting.
Some might say that’s as far as the law should go, and they might wonder where it all ends. Whatever the reason, before you text your driving friends, know that you may be heading down a costly road if the court holds you liable.