Can You be Liable for Injuries if You Text With a Driver? Courts Say Yes.

Drivers who exchange texts and e-mails behind the wheel can be held civilly liable and criminally responsible for the car accidents and injuries they cause. We all know that already.

But what about the person on the other end of that communication?phone

Courts in several jurisdictions have held that third parties can be liable for injuries caused by that communication – when that third party knew or had reason to know the person with whom they were communicating was driving. It’s a major legal shift, and it’s a sign that society takes seriously the enormous damage that distracted driving can cause and the society responsibility to prevent it.¬†

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety¬†revealed that while 431,000 injuries and 3,200 deaths were attributed to car accidents caused by distraction, the actual number is likely so much higher because distraction can’t be measured or detected the same way alcohol or drug impairment can.

In both North Carolina and South Carolina, the legislature has passed laws banning text messaging by all drivers. In North Carolina, drivers under the age of 18 are also banned from using handheld cell phones.

But of course, that doesn’t stop these incidents from happening.

Take the case of Gallatin v. Gargiulo. This was a claim weighed in March of this year by a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, in which plaintiff alleged a distracted driver was texting with her boyfriend – who also owned the vehicle she was driving – and that distraction caused her to rear-end a motorcyclist, killing him. It is well established under Pennsylvania law that texting and driving is illegal. But did the boyfriend with whom the driver was allegedly texting owe a duty of care to motorists around her? Yes, the court answered, so long as it could be proven he knew knew or had reason to know she would be reading or responding to those messages while she was also operating a vehicle.

In its decision, the court noted there was no state precedent on the issue, so instead relied on the ruling of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Kubert v. Best. In that case, the state court held that the person who sends a text message knowing the recipient was going to view it while driving and be distracted, that person could be held responsible.

In another case, Maynard v. Snapchat, a plaintiff alleges that the social media company that created an app that allows users to record their speed and superimpose it on a photograph “encouraged” drivers to speed and drive. This was despite an in-app warning telling users not to use the feature while driving or in a way that would be a distraction to drivers. Plaintiff, an Uber driver, alleges a user of the app recorded herself going more than 100 mph, just before she slammed into him, causing him to suffer serious and permanent injury.

The Snapchat case is being closely watched because it could have an impact on future cases against social media companies, which are so often what young drivers are engaged with while driving.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Texting a person while they’re driving could land you in jail, May 3, 2016, Vocativ

More Blog Entries:

N.C. Law Enforcement: “Move Over” Law Not Obeyed by Drivers, May 12, 2016, Charlotte Injury Lawyer Blog

Contact Information