Texting With a Driver? You Could be Liable.

We know that when drivers text, they are distracted. Distraction is a major catalyst for auto accidents. Motorists who cause crashes will be held liable to compensate for any resulting injuries. They may, depending on state law, even face criminal sanctions.phone1

But a new legal trend is emerging, one that involves the responsibility of those communicating on the other end. In a number of instances in different states, third parties that knowingly engage in text communication with drivers — or encourage drivers to engage in distracting activities — are being named as defendants in personal injury lawsuits. Success on this front has been varied, but it’s something our Miami car accident attorneys believe is worth exploring when there is evidence the crash was caused by distraction.

A recent article on Vocativ explored this burgeoning legal realm.

Let’s look at the recent case of Gallatin v. Gargiuloand the decision handed down by a Pennsylvania county common pleas court judge. According to court records, decedent/ motorcyclist was slowing down to make a right turn when at the same time, a woman was operating a vehicle owned by defendant. She was behind the decedent motorcyclist at the time. It is alleged that the female driver was text messaging on her cell phone at the time of the crash, in violation of state law, and that she as inattentive and distracted, causing her to strike the motorcycle ahead of her, resulting in decedent’s fatal injuries. The complaint alleges that the female driver was texting at the time with her boyfriend/ owner of the car. Plaintiff, administrator of decedent’s estate, then sued not only the driver, but also the vehicle owner — not for vicariously liability by way of his ownership of the car, but for direct negligence for knowingly texting with someone while they were driving.

The judge noted there was no precedent in Pennsylvania that specifically spells out the duties or liability of a sender of a text message to a person who is driving. However, it took note of a ruling by the Superior Court of New Jersey in Kubert v. Best. In that case, the New Jersey court held the sender of a text message could be potentially liable if a car accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know the recipient would view the text while driving and therefore be distracted. In Gallatin, plaintiff alleged defendant knew or should have known his girlfriend with whom he was texting was driving her vehicle and was therefore distracted. The assertion was that the actions of defendant aided or encouraged the driver to be distracted and thus provided a basis for establishing liability.

The court noted that while all plaintiff’s assertions had not yet been proven, if they were true, they could serve as the basis for establishing liability, based on the ruling in Kubert.

More recently, a Georgia man filed a lawsuit against Snapchat for “encouraging” motorists to drive distracted with creation of an app that captures one’s speed and superimposes the that recording on an image.

If you have been a victim of distracted driving, we can help.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Texting a Person While They’re Driving Could Land You in Jail, May 3, 2016, By Jennings Brown, Vocativ

More Blog Entries:

Car Accident Lawsuit Names Snapchat as Defendant, May 3, 2016, Miami Car Accident Lawyer Blog