The Continuing Battle against Distracted Driving and a New Twist on Texting Liability

Late in 2013's legislative session, the Florida Senate finally passed the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law. Governor Scott signed the bill into law on May 28, making Florida the 41st state to enact an all-ages ban. As a Panama City personal injury law firm, we see the damage that texting while driving causes and we hope that the bill helps fight the problem of distracted driving.

There has been much debate over whether the bill is comprehensive enough to truly make a difference. We think the bill must be viewed as only one step in addressing the distracted driving threat. The discussion must be ongoing and we must keep working to make our roads safe.

Recently a New Jersey appellate court addressed another wrinkle in the texting debate – what is the liability of a person who is texting with a driver who becomes distracted and causes an accident? CNN covered the story.

Facts and History of the New Jersey Case

In September 2009, Kyle Best was driving his pickup on a rural highway. While driving, per court documents, he was exchanging texts with Shannon Colonna. 18-year-old Best and 17-year-old Colonna were dating and had exchanged 62 texts in the course of that day. It was only 17 seconds after sending a message to Colonna that Best called 911 to report a horrible accident.

The teen had drifted across the road's double center line and collided head-on with a motorcycle travelling in the opposite direction. Aboard the touring motorcycle was David Kubert and his passenger, his wife Linda. The crash almost severed David's left leg and left Linda's left leg shattered, with her thighbone protruding through her skin. Both of the Kuberts ultimately lost a leg. Colonna sent two more text messages after the accident.

The Kuberts sued both Best and Colonna, settling with the former but initially losing against the latter. The couple appealed the decision, suggesting to the court that Colonna had been distracting Best and therefore shared responsibility for their pain and loss. Further, the couple's attorney argued that the driver's texting partner was electronically in the car and should be treated akin to someone sitting next to the driver, willfully distracting him.

NJ Court Rules Sender of Text Can Be Liable for Accident

Last week, a three-judge appellate panel agreed with the principle behind the plaintiffs' argument. The New Jersey court ruled that a sender of text messages may be held responsible for a distraction and liable for a collision if the sender knew that the recipient was driving while texting. Specifically, the court wrote: "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." However, the court found Colonna not liable, concluding that the plaintiffs had not proven she knew Best was driving. In her deposition, Colonna noted that, like her peers, she sends more than 100 texts a day and is oblivious as to whether a particular recipient is driving.

Panama City Distracted Driving Lawyer on the Direction of Accident Law

It is hard to predict whether this decision to hold the sender of a text liable is the start of a new trend. The ruling has been unpopular, and New Jersey's governor disagrees with it, placing liability firmly on the driver and not a texting partner. However, the accident also prompted the state to toughen criminal penalties for texting while driving. As a CBS affiliate noted, this summer the state moved from considering texting a secondary offense (as Florida does) to a primary offense and toughened penalties. We believe this crackdown on distracted driving from is likely to be a trend, and we believe that preventing distracted driving can save lives.

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a Panama City distracted driving crash, including a collision caused by a driver who was texting, please call our firm. We can help you recover monetary damages from those responsible.

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