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Third-Party Texter Liability in Car Accidents

The McClellan Law Firm

Car accident liability is a potentially complex matter, particularly when you take third parties into account. Though it may seem a far-fetched concept, people who text others while they know they are driving could face liability in a resulting collision.

This matter was addressed in New Jersey late last year, when a married couple sued an 18-year-old driver and his 17-year-old girlfriend for injuries sustained in a texting-related auto accident. The couple alleged that both the driver and his girlfriend should be held liable, because the young woman knew her boyfriend was driving as she was texting him.

This case opened a highly controversial issue of third-party texters being held liable for auto accidents, opening the door for a person who was not physically present to be legally responsible. The person's electronic presence, through text messages, was presented as sufficient in establishing liability.

Though the couple's claim was dismissed by the New Jersey court wherein it was heard, three appellate judges were prompted to address the issue of liability as it may apply to third-party texters. The court found that the couple had insufficient evidence against the driver's girlfriend in their specific case, but ruled in its opinion that third-party texters could be held liable in certain situations.

The opinion, ruled in Kubert v. Best, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (2013) and published in the New Jersey Law Journal on August 29, 2013, stated:

The sender of a text message from a remote location can be liable under the common law if an accident is caused because the driver was distracted by the texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.

The panel further found that "additional proofs are necessary to establish the sender's liability," and that it is not enough to simply prove that the sender knew the recipient was driving. Additionally, "one should not be held liable for sending a wireless transmission simply because some unidentified recipient might use his cellphone unlawfully and become distracted while driving."

Additional proof, such as a special relationship that gave the sender of the text some type of influence or control over the driver's conduct, must be established for a third-party texter to be held liable. A relationship between a parent and child, where the parent was encouraging texting while driving or a similar scenario, for example, may be sufficient.

Texting and Driving in California

California courts have not yet established third party liability for text message senders in auto accidents, but the opinion of the New Jersey court may offer a glimpse of what's to come. In any car accident claim, it will be necessary for a victim to establish fault in order to hold another driver (or other party) legally responsible. This is where a personal injury attorney can make a significant difference, building a strong case based on physical evidence and witness testimony to help a victim seek justice.

If you want to find out more about liability in your car accident, motorcycle accident or truck accident, we at The McClellan Law Firm may be able to help. Our San Diego personal injury lawyers fight for the rights of the injured to the fullest extent of the law, pursuing all potential sources of compensation. If a third-party texter or other individual may be held accountable, we will consider this option and use our resources to seek an ideal case result on our client's behalf. Call today for a free case review!