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The Courts Communications Transportation

NJ Court: Sending a Text Message To a Driver Could Make You Liable For Crash 628

C0R1D4N writes "A New Jersey Appeals Court has ruled that both sides of a texting conversation which resulted in a car accident could be held liable. The ruling came as part of a case in which the driver of a truck received a text message shortly before striking a motorcycle carrying two passengers. The court ruled that while in this case, the person sending the text wasn't liable, they could be if the circumstances were a little different. '...a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.'"
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NJ Court: Sending a Text Message To a Driver Could Make You Liable For Crash

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  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:04PM (#44698923)

    '...a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.'"

    Texting someone while they're driving is one of the best times to do it because it means they can get back to you whenever they're done. It's the driver's fault completely for looking at the text.

    The law doesn't look at this that way, and the judge is basing his opinion squarely within long-standing legal precident. However you want to classify the behavior, the judge still has a strongly defensible position, legally.

    Let's say that you're robbing a store after hours and you know your friend brought a gun. You didn't though, for whatever reason. During the robbery, a security guard shows up. He shoots at you and your friend -- your friend shoots back, killing the guard. You are liable for his death. Yet you weren't armed and in fact, were only shot at. The courts reason that because you had knowledge of the gun ahead of time, you could reasonably foresee its use, and by not stopping your friend you were complicit in allowing it to happen. Say hello to thirty years. Look up felony manslaughter for a more detailed description. Your mere knowledge of that gun is what turned simple robbery into felony manslaughter. If you hadn't known, you wouldn't be ordinarily liable in most jurisdictions.

    The law is quite clear on this point: If you have knowledge of illegal activity, regardless of your own intent, etc. and fail to act you're just as guilty as the person who did it. In fact, if the other person has diminished capacity, or extenuating circumstances, you could even face a harsher penalty than they will -- simply by knowing what's going on! You weren't involved at all, but you're the one heading to the slammer.

    Yes, this is "just" a cell phone, but legally, it's no different than it being "just" a beer. If you let someone drive home drunk, and they kill someone, there's some guys in blue uniforms outside that want to talk to you. This judge is saying a cell phone is no different, as a legal instrument.

    And he's right.

  • Re:Delayed Messages (Score:4, Informative)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:15PM (#44699089)

    The summary is about half the length of your post, and yet still answers every question you have. The texter is only liable if they are told or reason to know the text will be viewed specifically while driving.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:21PM (#44699861)

    Bringing a delicious peanut butter sandwich to work for lunch is totally innocuous. Doing so with the full knowledge that Bob from Accounting is lethally allergic is...not.

    I can't be held accountable if Bob steals my lunch, then eats it.

    Apparently you can in Joisey

    You would be wrong, even in Joisey. It depends on if you have been warned. If Bob has a deadly allergy to peanuts and even the slightest contact is enough to trigger a lethal attack and (this is the important part) the employees in the office have been notified of the problem and that they are not to bring peanut butter onto the premises, you can be held accountable.

    While I don't know of any cases involving peanut butter, there are plenty involving perfume and cologne where an employee is allergic to strong smells from these substances and other employees are prohibited from using them at the workplace (or even teachers if a student has the condition). Violation of the prohibition costs one their job. By definition, if you lose your job for bringing the banned substance to work because of an allergy another employee has, you are in fact being held accountable [for your actions].

    Whether the other employee, Bob in the AC's post, takes the sandwich or not, does not remove your accountability for your own action. For all Bob knew, he might argue, it was supposed to be an almond butter sandwich, not peanut butter. It doesn't matter, if you didn't bring the banned substance in the first place, Bob would never have had the opportunity to come into contact with it.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:59PM (#44700367)

    "Driver alledges his dispatcher told him to answer the phone even while driving and he did so, claiming this led to the accident. Company has written records of disciplining some driver employees for not immediately answering phone calls, and ex-employees are available to testify that this was cited by their management in termination. Preliminary investigation showed dispatcher and management did not know the laws of the state where the acccident occurred re. cell phone use. Dispatcher and other management had signed statements on record with their insuror stating they educated their drivers in all applicable state and local laws as part of regular training, and in fact were given a discount on insurance prices for their internal safety program."
                That's not a hypothetical - that's settled case law. That's two independent lines of proof, either of which would probably have resulted in the same court decision by itself. The company in question paid millions for both the settlement and in fines by the time the whole matter was over.

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