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New Jersey Court Holds Remote Texter Liable For Distracted Driver; Will Tennessee Follow?

A New Jersey state appellate court recently held that liability in a Distracted Driver lawsuit may attach to the person sending a text message to the distracted driver. This was a case of first impression in New Jersey, and the first known ruling extending the liability of texting while driving to a “remote texter.”

The case arose from a 2009 accident in which a pickup truck driver, reading a text message from a friend, veered off the road and hit a couple on a motorcycle. Both of the individuals on the motorcycle lost a leg. The couple sued both the driver and the sender of the text message. After settling with the driver, the plaintiffs claimed that the sender of the text was also responsible for the accident. The trial court dismissed the claim against the remote texter stating that a remote texter does not owe a duty of care to the couple since the remote texter was not near the accident. The duty of care is one of four elements required in negligence claim for personal injury. The couple appealed the claim.

A three-judge panel from the Superior Court of New Jersey’s appellate division held that a remote texter does owe a duty of care since her or she is “electronically present” in the vehicle. They compared the remote texter to a passenger who causes a driver to become distracted. The court ruled that the remote texter would have to know or have special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving in order to be liable.

However, the court agreed that, in this case, the remote texter was not liable. Plaintiff’s failed to prove the remote texter had good reason to believe that the driver would actually respond to the text..

The N.J. court has expanded the duty of care and ruled that remote texters may be held responsible in civil court. The case still provides hurdles for plaintiffs bringing personal injury cases against remote texters. First of all, this was not a unanimous decision, as a third judge dissented. Furthermore, the appellate court did not find the remote texter liable in this case since plaintiffs failed to provide evidence proving the remote texter had knowledge the driver would be distracted. Nevertheless, the decision codifies the expansion of duty of care to a person’s electronic presence in a distracted driver case. It is easy to think of hypotheticals where electronic presence can extend to other negligence claims.

Text messaging is a relatively new technology and the legal scope of texting while driving has quickly expanded in both the civil and criminal court settings. Washington state passed the first texting while driving ban in 2007; since then the number of states banning the activity has grown to 41. Most states, including Tennessee, allow for recovery of damages for an accident caused by a texting driver. While New Jersey is the first state to extend the liability to remote texters, our firm will be following this ruling to see how many states, including Tennessee, will follow suit.

Our firm is closely watching this case. We continue to demand that drivers stop texting while driving; these actions cause real, permanent, and distressing outcomes for the victims and their families.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a distracted driver, you may be able to pursue remedies in a civil lawsuit. Please contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
Kubert v. Best, ‎NJ Appellate Div. (2013).

Remote texter can be held liable for distracted driver’s crash, appeals court rules, Aug. 27, 2013, ABA Journal.

Take the pledge to never text and drive

More Blog Entries:
Knoxville Sheriff’s Office Participates in Texting While Driving Campaign, Sep. 18, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Knoxville Car Accident Prevention: Distracted Driving Awareness Month, April 10, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

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