In New Jersey, if you are texting a person who you know is driving, you can be held liable if that motorist then crashes and causes injury.
In what was apparently the first ruling of its kind, an appellate court in the Garden State made that determination the end of last month, according to the American Association for Justice.
I’ve blogged about this case before. In 2009 Kyle Best, 19, was driving a pickup truck when he crossed a center line and hit a motorcycle that David and Linda Kubert were on. The husband and wife each lost a part of their leg as a result of the accident.
While the Kuberts settled their claims against Best, they had also named Shannon Colonna, 17, as a defendant in their lawsuit. Colonna had been texting Best right before his crash.
Colonna’s lawyer asked the trial court to grant summary judgment and throw out the claims against her, and the court did. The Kuberts appealed.
At the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division, the Kuberts’ attorney presented evidence that Best and Colonna had been texting each other all day — as well as just moments before the crash. The lawyer argued that Colonna could be held liable if a jury determined her texting Best was “a proximate cause of the accident,” according to the American Association of Justice.
Colonna’s lawyer argued that the summary judgment was the correct action because she wasn’t at the scene and didn’t know he was driving.
While the appellate court upheld the summary judgment, it didn’t agree with the trial court that remote texters don’t have a legal responsibility not to text someone who is driving. The opinion written by Judge Victor Ashrafi said common law holds there is basis for liability when someone fails to prevent injury to another, the American Association of Justice reported.
But in the Best case, the judge wrote that there wasn’t enough evidence for a jury to find Colonna liable. Ashrafi said that a plaintiff can’t just prove that a defendant sent a text message to a driver at the wrong time. The judge maintained that “foreseeability of harm is essential to the determination of liability,” the American Association of Justice wrote.
The Kuberts’ attorney was weighing whether to take the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court.