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New Jersey Judges Say Others Can Be Liable for Texting a Driver

A New Jersey court of appeals has ruled that a person may be legally liable for sending a text that distracts a driver and causes an accident.

The decision arises out of a 2009 crash in which a couple on a motorcycle was badly injured when they were struck by a truck driven by an 18-year-old who crossed the center line. They already settled with the driver, but also sued his 17-year-old girlfriend, who had texted him just before the accident.

The court said:

We conclude that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.

The court of appeals did not find the girlfriend liable, because there was no clear evidence that she knew her boyfriend was driving at the time of the accident. But as a general principal, the judges accepted the plaintiffs' argument that a person who sends a text may bear legal responsibility for resulting injuries if the sender knows that the person receiving the text is driving at the time.

This does not mean that it is now illegal to send a text to a driver in New Jersey. It is, however, illegal for the driver to send or respond to a text, make a call, or otherwise use a cell phone while driving in New Jersey. Currently the penalty for any cell phone use while driving is $100. Legislation has been introduced to increase the penalty for texting to $300 and the loss of the texter's driver's license for three months.

However, the court of appeals decision does mean that someone who sends a text to a driver can be liable for civil damages if the texter is distracted by the message and gets in an accident that causes injuries or property damages.

The same rationale would seemingly apply to someone who makes a phone call to someone the caller knows is driving, if the caller has reason to know that the recipient of the call does not have a hands-free device.

If you've been injured in a vehicle accident, contact an experienced personal injury law attorney at the New Jersey Law Offices of Greenberg, Walden & Grossman, LLC.

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