New Jersey’s remote text senders could share liability for accidents

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently issued what could be a landmark verdict in a case of first impression in the state, namely whether a person in a remote location who texted a driver prior to his or her causing an accident might share in the liability for injuries.

An in-depth look at the opinion

The case of Kubert vs. Best and Colonna started when a distracted driver (Best) crashed his vehicle into a motorcycle ridden by a New Jersey couple, David and Linda Kubert. The Kuberts were so severely injured that both lost their left legs. The couple settled their claims with Best, but argued that the person who sent the message that distracted Best (a friend of his named Shannon Colonna) should be held partially responsible for the serious car accident.

The trial court dismissed claims against Colonna, finding that there was no proof that she had "aided and abetted" Best's actions as the Kuberts alleged. The appellate court agreed that Colonna wasn't liable based on the facts of this case, but held that a remote text sender could, in some circumstances, actually be partially responsible for injuries caused by a texting driver.

The remote sender of a text message will not always be at fault for distracted driving accidents; there must be a showing that he or she knew or "had special reason to know" that the recipient of the message was driving, and that the driver would ignore anti-texting regulations to immediately read or respond to the message (even knowing that doing so could cause a car crash).

The court went a bit further in its opinion, setting forth that the burden of proof to show that a remote text sender should be liable is solely on the one seeking to hold the sender responsible. This is important, because the court is actually protecting some remote senders with this language. The verbiage gives them the benefit of the doubt and a presumption of innocence by not assuming that everyone who sends a text message should be held accountable for a texting-related crash.

What does the future hold for New Jersey texters?

Since the Kubert case is an unpublished opinion and the new duty on remote texters that they set forth is written in dicta, it is unclear what precedential weight it will have on future distracted driving cases in the state. In the meantime, drivers who text behind the wheel and cause accidents that injure or result in a wrongful death are not only breaking the law, they can be held liable in a court action. If you or a loved one has been injured by a texting driver, seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.