Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Send a Text, Be Liable for an Accident

A New Jersey appellate court has ruled that you can be at fault for causing an automobile accident if you send a text message to someone who is driving.

A man named Kyle Best was exchanging text messages with his girlfriend when he crossed the center line and struck a couple on a motorcycle. The couple settled with Best out of court, but then they sued his girlfriend as well. The court ruled that she was not at fault. However, the court went on to say that a person can be held liable for sending a text message to a driver who they believe will read it.

This ruling is a ridiculous setback for the concept of personal responsibility. It’s the driver’s job to pay attention to the road. It’s not his friend’s responsibility to wonder if he’s driving before texting him. The ruling also creates very messy legal situations. It’s nearly impossible to prove whether or not someone sending a text message knew whether the recipient of the message was driving. And what if the texter thought the driver had pulled over? Or what if they thought the driver had software that would read the text aloud?

This ruling opens the door to countless frivolous lawsuits. Since many phones alert their owners to new email messages, trial lawyers can have a field day applying this ruling to anyone who sends an email to a driver. What about mass emails, such as some companies send for marketing purposes? Out of a mailing list of thousands, someone has to be driving, and now we have a corporate defendant with deep pockets.

This ruling is a classic example of judicial activism. There was no law in New Jersey about sending text messages to drivers. Judges simply invented their own laws and it will create all sorts of trouble. Judges should know their place: legislators pass laws, not judges.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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