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August 29, 2013

NJ Court Ruling: Sender of Text Message Could Be Liable if Accident Caused by Texting

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

A New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that someone who texts a driver could be held liable if a crash occurs – under limited circumstances.

Given the initial controversy over this week’s ruling, the case could wind up in the state’s Supreme Court. As for now, it sends a clear message about the seriousness of texting a driver.

“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,” CNN explained in a story on the ruling.

As it now stands, the appeals court judges said, "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.”

“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,” Appellate Division Judge Victor Ashrafi added in his ruling. He was joined in the ruling by Judge Michael Guadagno.

“When the sender knows that the text will reach the driver while operating a vehicle, the sender has a relationship to the public who use the roadways similar to that of a passenger physically present in the vehicle,” Ashrafi explained. “As we have stated, a passenger must avoid distracting the driver. The remote sender of a text who knows the recipient is then driving must do the same.”

On the other hand, Judge Marianne Espinosa, did not believe there is a “special duty or responsibility to those who knowingly text drivers,” news reports said.

In the specific case, however, the texter was not aware the driver was texting while driving. So she is not liable – all three judges said.

The young woman sent a text literally seconds before the driver’s truck crashed into a motorcycle in 2009 in Morris County.

The Newark Star-Ledger also reported that the two victims each lost parts of a leg as a result of the accident.

The newspaper believed the appeals court decision may be “the first ruling of its kind.”

Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie commented on radio station New Jersey 101.5, that overall the driver has “the obligation to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and pay attention to what you're doing.”

Civil liberties advocates are concerned about the ruling, too.

Edited by Blaise McNamee
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