Am I Liable for Texting a Driver Who Crashes
Let’s start with the facts:
- 25% of all motor vehicle accident involves a cell phone
- This amounted to over 340,000 accidents in 2013 alone
- There are nine people killed every day in car crashes due to distracted driving, many of which involve texting and driving
All of these are different ways of telling the same story – texting while driving is incredibly dangerous. This is common knowledge. What isn’t so readily apparent, though, are the dangers that come from texting someone who is driving.
According to New Jersey’s Appeals Court, you can be held legally responsible for texting someone you know to be driving. This was a precedent set back in 2013 and, since then, it has opened up a number of new concerns over personal rights, the definition of negligence, and the legal responsibility of individuals everywhere.
As New Jersey’s premier auto accident law firm, we’re here to help. Part of this means expert legal representation and part means explaining your liability before an accident happens. Keep reading to learn how you can be held responsible for texting a driver who crashes.
The Case Texted ‘Round the World
In 2013, a couple was riding their motorcycles when they were struck by a truck. The driver of the truck, an eighteen-year-old, had been texting with his girlfriend prior to the accident. This leads him to swerve across several lanes, a common result of distracted driving, and hit the couple.
The couple sustained serious injuries, and both lost their legs. They then sued. What made their suit different is that they named both the driver and his girlfriend as defendants on the advice of their attorney. The case went to trial and the jury found the girlfriend innocent of any wrongdoing. They reached this conclusion after learning that she didn’t know her boyfriend was driving at the time she sent her texts.
This is important. The jury and the presiding judge determined that the individual texting is “electronically in the car” with the individual driving. This means that if you text someone who you know is driving, you can be named in a civil suit in New Jersey.
Is Texting Someone You Know is Driving Illegal?
It’s important to stop here and point out that texting someone who you know is driving is not illegal. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that it’s difficult to know if the person you’re texting is driving.
New Jersey lawmakers have considered legislation that would allow police to examine the driver’s phone after a crash. The police have the ability to subpoena cell phone bills and records to see if the driver was using their phone at the time of the accident. This legislation would remove the need to get a warrant and allow police to examine the driver’s phone directly.
If passed, drivers who refuse to give police their phones would face the same penalties as someone who refuses to be breathalyzed – a minimum of seven months with a revoked license and fines.
While allowing police to search the phone of someone who crashes makes some sense (it would help determine who was texting them at the time of the crash), there has been significant pushback from groups like the ACLU and individuals across the state. The ACLU claims the proposed bills are unconstitutional. Private individuals don’t want their personal property being searched by police, especially after a jarring experience like an accident.
It’s unlikely this legislation will pass. Still, in cases of wrongful death or other catastrophic accidents, the police will likely aggressively pursue getting access to drivers’ phones.
The fact that you may now be held legally responsible for texting someone you know is driving means it’s important to get the best attorneys around. Here at Rossetti & Devoto, our track record of excellence speaks for itself. Learn about our successful settlements and verdicts and contact us today for a free case evaluation.