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Heard the term don't text and drive? now it is don't knowing text a driver-you could be liable

Posted by on Aug. 30, 2013 at 8:19 AM
  • 15 Replies

Text a driver in New Jersey, and you could see your day in court

By Ben Brumfield and Chris Boyette, CNN
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu August 29, 2013
Watch this video

Text a driver and pay for their crash?

  • Kyle Best was behind the wheel of his pickup, texting his friend
  • He swerved into the opposing lane and hit a couple on a motorcycle
  • The couple sued him -- and the girl who was texting him
  • Court: People texting drivers can be liable for wrecks if they know recipient is behind wheel

(CNN) -- We've all heard the dictum: Don't text and drive. Now a New Jersey state appeals court has an addendum: Don't knowingly text a driver -- or you could be held liable if he causes a crash.

Kyle Best was behind the wheel of his pickup in September 2009 driving down a rural highway when Shannon Colonna sent him a text.

The two were teens at the time. He was 18; she was 17, and they were dating. They sent each other 62 texts that day, according to court documents.

In the opposing lane of traffic, David Kubert was cruising along on a big, blue touring motorcycle with his wife, Linda, along for the ride. They approached Best at exactly the wrong time.

Can you really be liable for texting a driver?

The texts

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A court summary of the times of texts and calls to and from Best's cell phone reflect what happened next:

The teens were having a text chat, volleying each other messages every few moments.

Seventeen seconds after Best sent a text, he was calling a 911 operator.

His truck had drifted across the double center line and hit the Kuberts head-on.

The scene Best described to the emergency operator was most certainly gruesome.

"The collision severed, or nearly severed David's left leg. It shattered Linda's left leg, leaving her fractured thighbone protruding out of the skin as she lay injured in the road," the court document said.

Best hung up. Colonna texted him two more times.

The court did not publish the contents of their messages.

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The lawsuit

The Kuberts both lost their legs. They sued.

But they didn't just go after Best. They included Colonna in the lawsuit.

In their minds, she was distracting him and was also responsible for their pain and loss.

They settled with Best and lost against Colonna, but they appealed that decision.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen Weinstein, argued that the text sender was electronically in the car with the driver receiving the text and should be treated like someone sitting next to him willfully causing a distraction, legal analyst Marc Saperstein told CNN affiliate WPIX-TV.

The argument seemed to work.

The ruling

On Tuesday, three appeals court judges agreed with it -- in principle.

They ruled that if the sender of text messages knows that the recipient is driving and texting at the same time, a court may hold the sender responsible for distraction and hold him or her liable for the accident.

"We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted," the court said.

Explainer: Can you really be liable for texting a driver?

But the judges let Colonna off the hook.

She had a habit of sending more than 100 texts a day and was oblivious to whether recipients were driving or not.

"I'm a young teenager. That's what we do," she said in her deposition before the original trial.

Since she was unaware that Best was texting while driving, she bore no responsibility, the court decided.

"In this appeal, we must also decide whether plaintiffs have shown sufficient evidence to defeat summary judgment in favor of the remote texter. We conclude they have not," it said.

Survey: Adults text more than teens while driving

The reaction

During the trial, Colonna, now 21, found it "weird" that the plaintiffs tried to nail down whether she knew Best was texting behind the wheel, the court document said.

The judges' decision has elicited a similar response from the state's governor, Chris Christie.

The driver is ultimately responsible, he said. Not someone sending him a text.

"You have the obligation to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and pay attention to what you're doing," he told radio station New Jersey 101.5.

Other New Jerseyites agreed.

"That's completely absurd, just because you know you're driving doesn't mean, it really doesn't mean they know you're looking at it," Joe Applegate told WPIX.

"Even talking to the driver can distract them, so they are going to arrest for someone who simply talked to someone who is driving?" Louise McKellip asked.

The future

New Jersey has been cracking down hard on texting and driving in recent years, implementing new laws and regulations that treat it in a similar manner as drunken driving if it involves an injury accident.

The state passed a law last year based on the fate of the Kuberts and others who had been killed or maimed by texting motorists.

The "Kulesh, Kubert and Bolish's Law" makes distracted driving a crime if the driver causes an accident. Fines for bodily injury run as high as $150,000, and the driver can go to jail for up to 10 years.

And new legislation proposed by state Sen. James Holzapfel would let police thumb through cellphones if they have "reasonable grounds" to believe the driver was talking or texting when the wreck occurred.

The bill has set off alarm bells with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

by on Aug. 30, 2013 at 8:19 AM
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Replies (1-10):
by Silver Member on Aug. 30, 2013 at 8:29 AM

It seems extreme but I like to use this threat on my son who is a texter and a driver.We arent from Jersey but the scare tactics helps.

by on Aug. 30, 2013 at 8:38 AM

 I don't think they should be liable unless it can be proven they knew they were actually DRIVING.  Even then I think this is flimsy.

I pull over when I need to send/read a text.  Just because someone knows I am on my way from A to B doesn't mean they know if I am actually DRIVING or not.

by Gold Member on Aug. 30, 2013 at 8:56 AM

Our phones hgave an "airplane" setting; would be nice to have a "driving" setting that turns off messaging when we're driving.

by Bronze Member on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:08 AM

I get plenty of texts wehn I am driving. I simply ignore them until I reach my destination. Nothing anyone is texting me about is so important that I need to read and respond when I am on the road. If its an emergency call my phone repeatedly then I'll know it's urgent and find a safe place to pull over.

by on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:10 AM

That proposed legislation is ridiculous.  I get texts while driving; I just don't look at my phone until I'm at my destination.  People can ignore texts while driving; they just choose not to.

by on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:12 AM
Some people can send text by voice which is easier. I do it all the time when I am walking to work. He should have waited
by on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:14 AM

I think the entire responsibility is the driver's, not the texter's.  

by Bronze Member on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:18 AM
1 mom liked this
I read about this last night and I can't believe it! What about personal responsibility? If you are driving and answer a text, it's no one's fault but your own.
by Bronze Member on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:21 AM

 I agree. I heard about this story on the radio this morning, while driving, in the middle of the dj's discussion about it my phone beeped>> letting me know I have a text. I ignored it until I got home.

Quoting momtoscott:

I think the entire responsibility is the driver's, not the texter's.  


by Member on Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:26 AM
My phone has a driving setting. I've never used it but I also don't get on my phone when I drive

Quoting gdiamante:

Our phones hgave an "airplane" setting; would be nice to have a "driving" setting that turns off messaging when we're driving.

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