Typically you have no idea where the recipient of the message is
when you press "send" on a text. But what if you did know
that George was driving to the store to get paper plates?
Should you be held partly responsible if he reads the message
while driving and crashes?
This is indeed what Appeals Court judges in New Jersey suggest
as part of a ruling in late August.
The decision by the court was the result of a case regarding a
17-year-old girl who had texted a friend right before he crashed
his pickup truck into a couple on a motorcycle. The
injured couple sued the driver as well as the friend who texted
In this particular situation, the New Jersey Appeals Court
decided the girl texting the driver could not be held liable
because she was unaware that her friend was driving at the time of
the text. (In her deposition, she admitted sending more than
100 texts a day and being oblivious to where the recipients were at
the time of the texts.)
However, the judges certainly left the door open for future
lawsuits involving texting by ruling "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
While the Governors Highway Safety Association says there are
currently 41 states that ban texting while driving, none of these
laws takes the sender outside of the vehicle into account.
And with good reason. If lawsuits are open to those sending
texts, the complications are mind-boggling.
- What is an acceptable reason to text a driver? ("Baby coming
now, hurry!" is very different from "Will be 15 mins late.")
- Who would have a "special reason to know" their texting
partner was driving?
- How much liability does the texter have versus the person
- How would the texter be punished by the state?
- How would texters pay for their share of damages? Car
insurance won't pay out because the texter isn't operating a
The person behind the wheel should be responsible enough to wait
until safely parked before checking a phone. Does anyone really
disagree with this?
Back in New Jersey, an assemblywoman from Monmouth County
responded to the ruling by proposing legislation to protect texters
who send messages to recipients who happen to be driving.
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande says her legislation "puts the
responsibility where it belongs -- in the front seat with the
driver -- not with the sender who can be held culpable for
something beyond their control."
What are your thoughts? Should the sender of a text be
held liable in any way for the actions of the text recipient?