Text a Driver in New Jersey, and You Could be Liable

Even without a statewide ban, drivers in Texas know they shouldn’t be texting while driving. A recent case out of New Jersey is raising questions about the liability implications of those who knowingly text a person who is behind the wheel.

In September of 2009, 18-year-old Kyle Best was driving his pickup truck on a rural highway in New Jersey. Unfortunately, he was also exchanging texts with his girlfriend, 17-year-old Shannon Colonna. CNN reports that the couple sent each other 62 texts that day. When Best took his attention away from the road, he veered into the opposing lane and struck David and Linda Kubert’s motorcycle. Best called 911 just 17 seconds after sending a text. Both David and Linda sustained severe injuries. David’s left leg was nearly severed in the crash and had to be amputated above the knee. Linda also lost her leg in the crash.

The Kuberts named both Best and Colonna in their lawsuit. Their attorney, Stephen Weinstein, argued that Colonna was willfully causing a distraction and was electronically in the car with Best. The Kuberts settled with Best but lost their lawsuit against Colonna. Three appeals court judges have sided with the Kuberts, although they let Colonna off the hook. The court stated “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.”