Should a person who sends a text to a distracted driver be responsible for the ensuing wreck?

There is an interesting personal injury case pending in New Jersey that highlights an interesting question about responsible use of SMS technology. A guy allegedly hit a motorcycle, severely injuring its two riders, because he was distracted by a text his girlfriend had sent. The motorcycle riders sued the girlfriend who sent the text.

girl sending text message

Even the plaintiffs’ lawyer admits (in this interview) that most people would not be willing to pin responsibility on someone who was not present to cause an accident and injury. But because of the unique facts, namely, that she apparently knew her boyfriend was driving, she became “electronically present” with him in the vehicle.

One of the things the plaintiffs will have to show is that the text proximately caused the accident. In New Jersey, the jury (if the case gets that far) will be asked to find whether the plaintiffs’ injuries are so connected with the negligent actions of the girlfriend that it is reasonable to hold her responsible. Answering that will require the jury to examine whether it was foreseeable that her sending the text would cause that wreck.

What do you think?

Photo credit Ed Yourdon under this license.

4 thoughts on “Should a person who sends a text to a distracted driver be responsible for the ensuing wreck?

  1. Paul McGuire

    I think the more important question is whether she knew her boyfriend often responded to texts he received while he was driving. The beauty of texts is that a responsible driver can ignore the text and read it later, when he is no longer driving. But there is some added urgency when you get a text from your girlfriend.

    I think the lawsuit poses an interesting question because when you are on the phone with someone and you know they are driving, should you be required to tell them to hang up, or at least determine if they are using a hands-free-device?

    Even though many state laws allow driving while using a bluetooth or other device, studies show they don’t reduce the distraction of the driver. So by the same logic, by staying on the phone with the driver of the car who you know is driving you are creating a danger for others on the road.

    In the end I think the responsibility for any crash should be on the driver of the car. The driver is the one who makes the choice to use a cell phone or read a text (or worse respond to it) while driving, and should be the only one responsible.

  2. Skip

    Seems like a bit of a stretch to me. Even if she knew he was driving, chances are that he wouldn’t get in an accident even if statistically he was more likely to. I think if she knew that there was a 50/50 chance that it could cause an accident, then maybe it’s negligence on her part, but realistically, you could send someone a 1000 texts while they’re driving and I bet less than 1 would result in an accident. This doesn’t make it OK on her part, but I also don’t think that it makes her responsible for the accident. I’d be interested in knowing if similar cases have been prosecuted successfully where a girlfriend let a boyfriend who was drunk drive?

  3. gerardw

    No. Texts are asynchronous — it’s up to the recipient to decided when to read them.

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