Texting While Driving: Can “Remote Texters” Be Held Liable for Auto Accidents?

By now, almost everyone is aware that it is a bad idea to “text” or otherwise access the mobile web while driving because of the obvious safety concerns- this form of distracted driving leads to many serious car accidents in Connecticut. Fewer people, however, are aware of the magnitude of this growing specific problem and the number of serious car wrecks caused by these careless drivers.

Considering the variety of ways that texting distracts drivers, it is not surprising that using a smart phone while driving has become a leading concern for motorists. Texting while driving potentially distracts drivers in three ways: shifting the driver’s visual focus to a phone screen, taking the driver’s hands off of the steering wheel, and diverting mental focus from safe driving to the content of the text message. Recent studies reveal alarming statistics about this trend:

  • According to a study performed by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, more than 3,000 teenagers die annually due to texting while driving.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2010 alone, 416,100 people were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted driving, and that nearly one in five crashes that year involved distracted driving.
  • One driver participating in a Car and Driver experiment, traveling at 70 m.p.h., needed an extra 36 feet to stop while reading a text message and 70 feet to stop while writing a text message. The same driver was then tested while legally intoxicated- and only needed an extra four feet to stop.

But what about the person potentially distracting the driver by sending text messages? Most of the time, people sending text messages do not know what the recipient is doing at the time the message is sent. If the person writing the text messages knows that the recipient of the message is driving a car and might look at the messages while driving, however, the sender is recklessly subjecting Connecticut drivers to danger of experiencing a car wreck.

Although this theory has yet to be decided in Connecticut, a New Jersey appellate court decided that, depending on the circumstances, a remote texter can be held liable to accident victims if the text message recipient causes a motor vehicle accident.

In Kubert v. Best, two motorcyclists seriously injured in a car accident sued a person who had sent the driver a text message shortly before the accident. The appellate court decided that “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.” Despite that general proposition, however, the court concluded that the “remote texter” in that case was not liable because there was not sufficient evidence that she knew, or should have known, that the recipient was driving when she sent the text message.

Although the New Jersey case is not directly binding on Connecticut courts, and potentially subject to further litigation in New Jersey, it does create persuasive authority that “remote texters” can theoretically be held liable for auto accidents in Connecticut courts.

If you are the victim of a distracted driver due to texting while driving, it is important to speak with a motor vehicle accident attorney immediately because as any fines assessed in criminal court will not cover your medical bills, time lost from work, or personal injuries suffered. Please contact us to schedule a meeting in either our Middletown or Old Saybrook offices. An experienced attorney can communicate with the insurance company, file a claim, investigate the circumstances of the car collision, and help ensure that your legal and financial interests are protected.

-Eamonn Wisneski, Esq.

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.