New Jersey court: some remote senders liable for texting-related crashes

A potential landmark verdict recently came down from a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court that could change the way in which texting-related car accidents are handled across the state. The case involves a texting driver, Kyle Best, who drifted out of his lane while reading a text message from a friend and slammed into a motorcycle ridden by two fellow New Jersey residents, David and Linda Kubert.

The history of the case of Kubert vs. Best and Colonna

The Kuberts were so seriously injured in the crash that they both had their left legs amputated. They brought claims not only against the driver (Best), but also against the female friend, Shannon Colonna, who was sending him text messages at the time of the accident. Phone records show that Best received a text from Colonna less than a minute before crashing into the Kuberts' motorcycle.

Legal action against Colonna was predicated upon the fact that she allegedly had a special enough relationship with Best that she knew (or should have known) that he was driving when she sent him a text message and that she knew (or should have known) that he would respond to her text regardless of New Jersey traffic laws prohibiting such action. Colonna's attorney brought a Motion for Summary Judgment asking the court to find that there was insufficient evidence presented by the Kuberts that Colonna actually had such a "special" relationship with Best that she both knew he was driving when she texted him and that he would immediately respond while still in motion.

The decision

The trial court granted Colonna's motion, agreeing that there was insufficient evidence that she had a duty to not text Best because she knew he was driving or that even if such a duty existed, that she breached it. The trial court's decision to grant the summary judgment was upheld on appeal, and the appellate panel agreed that there was no evidence that Colonna knew or should have known that Best was driving when she texted him or that he would respond in spite of the inherent dangers of texting while driving and New Jersey statutes specifically prohibiting that behavior.

The appeals court went further, though, and actually set forth a first-of-its-kind legal duty that can actually make a remote texter liable - in certain circumstances - for accidents caused when a driver responds to his or her text messages. Had sufficient evidence been presented, it is likely that Colonna would have been the first person in the state to be held liable under the new theory of remote senders being partially responsible for texting-related accidents.

Moving forward

Since this is an unpublished opinion and the aforementioned duty was stated in dicta only, it is unclear what precedential value it will have for future cases. In the meantime, though, it is illegal for New Jersey drivers to text behind the wheel, so they are definitely responsible for accidents they cause. People injured in those car accidents should consult experienced personal injury attorneys to explore legal options for holding texting drivers accountable.

Have you or a loved one been injured by a texting driver? You can learn more about your legal rights and options to hold the party or parties responsible for your injuries accountable by consulting an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney in your area.