Text someone when they are driving and you could be held liable.

A new ruling came down today in a court case that someone who sends a text to a driver can be held responsible if that driver picks up the message and then gets into an accident. The judge claims such individuals have a special responsibility and claims that only those who know the recipient is driving and that they will pick up the message while driving will be held responsible.
Here’s the link: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/08/27/n-j-court-text-recipients-can-be-held-liable-in-texting-and-driving-accidents/
I see several problems with this.

  1. Why is texting any different from a phone call? If the ruling is going to be consistent with the real world the same ruling should apply to any activity someone initiates that would distract a driver including an incoming phone call, a public alert over the radio, and amber alert on a highway sign, a pretty girl on the side of the road, an interesting billboard along the highway.
  2. The ruling states that it would only apply if the sender of the message had special knowledge that the recipient was driving and that they would answer the message immediately. Are we now writing psychic ability into the legal code? To convict someone we would have to decide that the sender of the message could read the recipients mind and additionally that the jurors could read the senders mind.
  3. For those who think this law would have limited applications think again. The legal system doesn’t work that way. Lawyers sue everyone even remotely involved in the hopes of getting the biggest award possible. If there is any evidence that you sent someone a text during any time leading up to an accident you WILL be sued. They may dismiss you form the case later or drag you to the end and let a jury decide but by that time you will have lost countless nights of sleep and perhaps some money from lost days at work or legal fees.
    I am against texting and driving as much as anyone but put the blame where the blame belongs, on the person who is driving and texting. This is just another example of lawyers and plaintiffs trying to increase the payout and the legal system trying to guarantee that there is always someone to blame.
    Just my 2 cents… well maybe 3

I think its important to realize that this is a news source.
From personal studies at my university, they often exclude important details of studies and events (though not always).
Take this case for example
http://www.nasw.org/users/mslong/2009/2009_07/Newspapers.htm

I read the article macgyver linked, as well as some other articles and opinions about this ruling. It seems that people can be held liable for texting someone who is driving. This is wrong. I don’t text, but if I did how could I know if the person I am texting is driving? The driver is responsible for his/her actions, no one else. I hope this ruling gets overturned.

Darron, judges are often political appointees. Is there any reason to think they are any more intelligent than the politicians who put up their names? :lol:
P.S. I agree with you that it’s a stupid ruling.
Occam

No reason whatsoever, especially considering some of their judicial opinions. I’m taking an Environmental Law class this fall, and the spin judges put on previous cases to justify their opinions is often appalling.

I read the article macgyver linked, as well as some other articles and opinions about this ruling. It seems that people can be held liable for texting someone who is driving. This is wrong. I don't text, but if I did how could I know if the person I am texting is driving? The driver is responsible for his/her actions, no one else. I hope this ruling gets overturned.
It does sound off the wall at first glance, but suppose there is a transcript of texts available that shows the person texting was told that the recipient was driving but continued to text anyway and an accident ensued? Would we be so cavalier about the situation if it was our innocent loved one who was injured or killed in such an accident? Of course, drivers should refuse to engage in texting while driving, but we know they don't. I'm not so sure liability shouldn't be found against the original texter in a situation like this. If it can be shown that the original texter knew the recipient was driving it would be no different than if it was a person who continued to make phone calls to a driver knowing he or she was driving. Yes, the driver should have more sense, but so should the person causing the distraction who knows the recipient is driving and is irresponsible enough to answer a phone or text. the deciding factor should be if it can be shown that the person knew the recipient was driving and very often phone records can established that. Lois

Lois here is the problem I have with the argument you and the judge are putting forward. It diverts the responsibility from the only person who is ultimately responsible, the driver. No one made the driver answer the text. The driver is the only one who really knows whether its safe to answer the text or not. The texter may know the driver is going somewhere in a car but they have no way of knowing for sure that the person is the one driving, if the person is stopped at a light or on the side of the road,or if the person is going to be stupid enough to feel obliged to answer the call right away or wait until the car is stopped. And how can the jury be sure the driver even saw the final message that preceded the crash? There is far too much grey in these situations for any reasonable jury ( and juries are never reasonable) to make a sensible decision. here are some examples.
Example 1:
John: Hi Jane. On my way over now. See you soon :slight_smile:
Jane: OK.
5 second delay
++++CRASH++++
Example 2:
John: Hi Jane. On my way over now. Should I pick up anything?
Jane: OK. Are you going by the supermarket?
John: Yes. What do you need?
30 second delay
++++CRASH+++++
Example 3
John: Hi Jane. On our way
Jane: Cool
John: SHould we pick up anything for the party?
Jane: Yes. What stores are you guys near?
John: One second. checking with everyone else. I dont know the area.
5 minute delay
++++CRASH++++
How would you assign liability in each case? The correct answer is it doesn’t matter. You will be sued in every single case if the ruling is allowed to stand. Lawyers sue EVERYONE who is even remotely involved and juries are ridiculously capricious and arbitrary in assigning liability.
My father was once stopped at a red light. He wasn’t moving at all when a garbage truck slammed into a car with an elderly couple in it. The car slid across the road and smacked into my fathers car. The lawyer representing the elderly couple sued not only the garbage truck company but my father as well. Even the most irresponsibly generous jury wouldn’t have been able to find fault with a person sitting in their car at a red light but the lawyer sued my dad anyway and the case dragged on for 3 years with a 3 million dollar damage claim hanging over my father’s head before he was dropped from the case.
As a physician. My wife is an ob/gyn and we have lots of physician friends. I am witness to lots of liability cases and lawyers know well that decisions by juries often have very little to do with the facts and far more to do with sympathy. The last thing we want to do is put more juries in a position where they have a VERY nebulous set of facts to decide a case on. It will all come down to how sympathetic the injured party is. Put a mother and her two small tearful children in the room and the brain damaged husband in a wheelchair and there is a very good chance that even example number 1 above would result in a guilty verdict for the texter.

Any type of cell phone communication while driving should be illegal… if you pay a cell phone bill, you should not be able to drive, IMO.

Any type of cell phone communication while driving should be illegal....
I agree. I see people do stupid things related to their cell phones every day. Why do people slow down when they answer their cell phones, and why do they stay in the left lane impeding traffic? Don't get me started on people who text while driving.
if you pay a cell phone bill, you should not be able to drive, IMO.
That is just ridiculous, but it would ease traffic congestion.
No reason whatsoever, especially considering some of their judicial opinions. I'm taking an Environmental Law class this fall, and the spin judges put on previous cases to justify their opinions is often appalling.
There is the doctrine of secondary negligence. Here is an article on the decision of the New Jersey Court in this case. A state appeals court has ruled that third-party texters could bear responsibility in texting-related automobile accidents. The opinion was released Tuesday, in response to a claim against a 17-year-old girl who sent a text message to 18-year-old Kyle Best before his pickup truck veered out of its lane, hitting a husband and wife on their motorcycle. The claim was dismissed by the court, but prompted the three appellate judges who heard the case to define the liability of third-party texters. According to the court, the couple, David and Linda Kubert -- who each lost a leg in the accident -- did not present enough evidence against the girl for the claim, but ruled in its opinion that in the state of New Jersey, third-party texters could be held liable if they knew that the person they were texting is behind the wheel. http://www.slashgear.com/text-message-sender-could-be-liable-for-car-wreck-in-nj-appeals-court-29295399/
There is the doctrine of secondary negligence.
And where does it end Lois? If a killer stabs someone to death do we blame the company that made the knife. Perhaps the bus driver who let him off at the stop where he found his victim or the TV show that provided the script for the murder he copied. How about the high school teacher who flunked him and destroyed his self esteem? How about his parents for giving birth to him? Every one of those events was a contributing factor to the crime he committed. Where do we draw the line when we go beyond the person who made the final decision to commit the act? We could blame all of them but what purpose would that serve society? What would the net effect be? It would make the lawyers happy because there would be lots of deep pockets to pick but it would cripple society because everyone would have to think twice before doing anything at all. How many degrees of separation do we need between ourselves and the event before we are considered guilt free in the eyes of the law? We would be paralyzed. What is the net benefit of a law that places liability on the texter? How many accidents will you really prevent? How many innocent people will have their lives dragged through the mud we call a legal system to benefit a few greedy lawyers and vengeful victims?
There is the doctrine of secondary negligence.
And where does it end Lois? If a killer stabs someone to death do we blame the company that made the knife. Perhaps the bus driver who let him off at the stop where he found his victim or the TV show that provided the script for the murder he copied. How about the high school teacher who flunked him and destroyed his self esteem? How about his parents for giving birth to him? Every one of those events was a contributing factor to the crime he committed. Where do we draw the line when we go beyond the person who made the final decision to commit the act? We could blame all of them but what purpose would that serve society? What would the net effect be? It would make the lawyers happy because there would be lots of deep pockets to pick but it would cripple society because everyone would have to think twice before doing anything at all. How many degrees of separation do we need between ourselves and the event before we are considered guilt free in the eyes of the law? We would be paralyzed. What is the net benefit of a law that places liability on the texter? How many accidents will you really prevent? How many innocent people will have their lives dragged through the mud we call a legal system to benefit a few greedy lawyers and vengeful victims? What do you suggest be done about it? It's the way our legal system works. It got to where it is through hundreds of years of case law and precedence. In order to do what you suggest, the whole system would have to be turned on its head. Sure, I'd like to see some things changed but I'd be reluctant to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You might find the law of unintended consequences kicking in with a vengeance and you could find yourself up the creek without a paddle. (Forgive the mixed metaphores.)
I read the article macgyver linked, as well as some other articles and opinions about this ruling. It seems that people can be held liable for texting someone who is driving. This is wrong. I don't text, but if I did how could I know if the person I am texting is driving? The driver is responsible for his/her actions, no one else. I hope this ruling gets overturned.
What if there is a transcript of the texts that clearly shows the original texter knew the person he was texting was driving and continued to text anyway? What if the persons injured or killed were your loved ones? Would it make a difference? Lois

Lois, the driver should be responsible. If someone texts or calls me while I am driving I either let my passenger take the call or wait until I can pull over to read the text or call back. No one is holding a gun to my head and making me take the call or, even worse, read and answer a text message.

Lois, the driver should be responsible. If someone texts or calls me while I am driving I either let my passenger take the call or wait until I can pull over to read the text or call back. No one is holding a gun to my head and making me take the call or, even worse, read and answer a text message.
I'm not saying it's necessarily a good idea. I was simply citing the ruling as it stands in NJ and the reasoning behind it. Lois
I read the article macgyver linked, as well as some other articles and opinions about this ruling. It seems that people can be held liable for texting someone who is driving. This is wrong. I don't text, but if I did how could I know if the person I am texting is driving? The driver is responsible for his/her actions, no one else. I hope this ruling gets overturned.
What if there is a transcript of the texts that clearly shows the original texter knew the person he was texting was driving and continued to text anyway? In that case I think the non driver would share some responsibility. Stephen
There is the doctrine of secondary negligence.
And where does it end Lois? If a killer stabs someone to death do we blame the company that made the knife. Perhaps the bus driver who let him off at the stop where he found his victim or the TV show that provided the script for the murder he copied. How about the high school teacher who flunked him and destroyed his self esteem? How about his parents for giving birth to him? Every one of those events was a contributing factor to the crime he committed. Where do we draw the line when we go beyond the person who made the final decision to commit the act? We could blame all of them but what purpose would that serve society? What would the net effect be? It would make the lawyers happy because there would be lots of deep pockets to pick but it would cripple society because everyone would have to think twice before doing anything at all. How many degrees of separation do we need between ourselves and the event before we are considered guilt free in the eyes of the law? We would be paralyzed. What is the net benefit of a law that places liability on the texter? How many accidents will you really prevent? How many innocent people will have their lives dragged through the mud we call a legal system to benefit a few greedy lawyers and vengeful victims? What do you suggest be done about it? It's the way our legal system works. It got to where it is through hundreds of years of case law and precedence. In order to do what you suggest, the whole system would have to be turned on its head. Sure, I'd like to see some things changed but I'd be reluctant to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You might find the law of unintended consequences kicking in with a vengeance and you could find yourself up the creek without a paddle. (Forgive the mixed metaphores.) I am not saying we throw the whole thing out. I am just saying we need to be very careful about extending the concept of negligence beyond the actions for the party who made the choice that directly resulted in the bad outcome. Society should not accept this argument that transfers additional responsibility to others who are far removed form the decision and have no ability to control the final act. Decisions like this may be based on precedent but they are only an interpretation of precedent. If we let them stand then they two become precedent. We have no legal way to legislate this as far as I know but since all decisions are a matter of opinion we can only hope that wiser judges would overturn this ruling so it doesnt add to precedent.
I read the article macgyver linked, as well as some other articles and opinions about this ruling. It seems that people can be held liable for texting someone who is driving. This is wrong. I don't text, but if I did how could I know if the person I am texting is driving? The driver is responsible for his/her actions, no one else. I hope this ruling gets overturned.
What if there is a transcript of the texts that clearly shows the original texter knew the person he was texting was driving and continued to text anyway? In that case I think the non driver would share some responsibility. Stephen And how exactly are you going to prove that this did indeed happen. I listed a couple of scenarios above. Even if you accept the premise that the texter is responsible in some way ( and I don't because no one forced the driver to attend to the text) It will never be black and white. There are far too many variables to ever prove that the texter knew the person was driving and recklessly continued to text and that the text actually lead to the accident. What if I send you a text and you ignore it and still get into an accident 30 seconds later. How would the jury know you ignored it? There is no way they would be able to tell and I would be guilty until proven innocent ( and of course I could never prove my innocence). In addition how would the jury determine that I knew you would answer it while you were driving and that you wouldn't pull over or wait? There is far too much guess work and this will all come down to sympathy not facts. Like I said above. You won't have to even know the person was driving to get sued. You will be sued whether you knew or not. The lawyers all think its just fine to drag everyone into court and let the jury sort it out later. If you're not negligent you have nothing to worry about in their minds which of course is not true. They will say its the price we pay to have a legal system like ours. The outcome in civil trials is very unpredictable. Decisions of negligence often pivot on the sympathy vote. We should not be providing lawyers with ability to try people in cases that will always come down to very nebulous facts even if we accept the concept of secondary negligence in this case. A lot of innocent people are going to be harmed and I don;t see any good coming of it at all.
I read the article macgyver linked, as well as some other articles and opinions about this ruling. It seems that people can be held liable for texting someone who is driving. This is wrong. I don't text, but if I did how could I know if the person I am texting is driving? The driver is responsible for his/her actions, no one else. I hope this ruling gets overturned.
What if there is a transcript of the texts that clearly shows the original texter knew the person he was texting was driving and continued to text anyway? In that case I think the non driver would share some responsibility. Stephen And how exactly are you going to prove that this did indeed happen. I listed a couple of scenarios above. Even if you accept the premise that the texter is responsible in some way ( and I don't because no one forced the driver to attend to the text) It will never be black and white. There are far too many variables to ever prove that the texter knew the person was driving and recklessly continued to text and that the text actually lead to the accident. What if I send you a text and you ignore it and still get into an accident 30 seconds later. How would the jury know you ignored it? There is no way they would be able to tell and I would be guilty until proven innocent ( and of course I could never prove my innocence). In addition how would the jury determine that I knew you would answer it while you were driving and that you wouldn't pull over or wait? There is far too much guess work and this will all come down to sympathy not facts. Like I said above. You won't have to even know the person was driving to get sued. You will be sued whether you knew or not. The lawyers all think its just fine to drag everyone into court and let the jury sort it out later. If you're not negligent you have nothing to worry about in their minds which of course is not true. They will say its the price we pay to have a legal system like ours. The outcome in civil trials is very unpredictable. Decisions of negligence often pivot on the sympathy vote. We should not be providing lawyers with ability to try people in cases that will always come down to very nebulous facts even if we accept the concept of secondary negligence in this case. A lot of innocent people are going to be harmed and I don;t see any good coming of it at all. Uou wrote: What if I send you a text and you ignore it and still get into an accident 30 seconds later. How would the jury know you ignored it? Lois:They would know if there was a time-stamped transcript of the texts, which, it would appear, was the case in the NJ decision. It's unlikely that he prosecutor was relying on hearsay. But nothing came of it in this case because the original texter was never charged. The decision just left the door open for future cases. Nobody is suggesting that a jury be handed a case with no evidence. This kind of situation would most likely only affect civil cases rather than criminal ones. You wrote: We should not be providing lawyers with ability to try people in cases that will always come down to very nebulous facts even if we accept the concept of secondary negligence in this case. A lot of innocent people are going to be harmed and I don;t see any good coming of it at all. Lois: A time-stamped transcript is not a nebulous fact. We'll have to wait and see if anything of any consequence comes of this decision. Many legal decisions are never acted upon.

You’re missing the point here Lois. First, the time stamp only tells you when the text was sent it tells you nothing about what the recipient did. you don;t know if the recipient picked it up and looked at it from the transcript. The simple example I gave where someone sends a text " hey I’m on my way over" and the person answers back “OK” and then an accident occurs. The jury would have no way of knowing if the driver ever actually saw the massage or correctly ignored it and got into the accident for completely unrelated reasons.
Everything about these events will be nebulous because we aren’t there in the car to see what the driver is actually doing and what effect the text had on their driving. We are making inferences and those inferences will be clouded by the prejudices and experiences of each jury member.
Again this all presumes that we accept the argument of secondary negligence which I don’t in these cases. I think these cases would cause far more harm than good. You may very rarely find a case where someone did something very egregious but 99% of the people who get caught up in this dragnet of expanding guilt will be innocent of doing anything remotely negligent.