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New Jersey Judges Rule That Yes, You Can Be Sued For Texting A Driver

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Last year, we asked the question, "If you send a text to a driver, can you go to jail if he crashes?" 

Most folks responded, "No" -- sometimes, "No #*$&% way!" But judges in New Jersey apparently have a different opinion.

DON'T MISS: Man Texts 'I Need To Quit Texting' Before Driving Off Bridge

THE CASE IN QUESTION

In 2009, Kyle Best was exchanging text messages with Shannon Colonna. Best was driving at the time.

Distracted by Colonna's texts, Best drifted out of his travel lane and collided with a motorcycle being ridden by David and Linda Kubert. Each of the Kuberts lost a leg in the accident, and they sued Best, who settled out of court.

But the case didn't stop there. Litigation being what it is, the Kuberts also sued Colonna, arguing that she was just as guilty as Best because she distracted him from the task of driving.

Judge David Rand found that Colonna was not liable for the accident, insisting that drivers alone are responsible for their actions. But according to CNN, the Kuberts appealed Rand's decision and won -- well, almost.

SEE MORE: Americans Worry Less About Dangerous Driving Habits As Fatalities Increase

Three appeals court judges found merit in the Kuberts' argument: "We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by 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."

That last bit is important: though Colonna could've been held liable for Best's accident, the judges determined that she was unaware that Best was driving at the time. That decision was informed, in part, by Colonna's age at the time of the incident (she was 17) and by the fact that she regularly sent over 100 text messages per day, apparently clueless about what recipients might be doing at the time.

The appeals court decision has already been widely criticized, with everyone from Governor Chris Christie to the Man on the Street arguing that drivers are ultimately responsible for whether they read and respond to text messages. 

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We agree. There are plenty of distractions in the auto space, but drivers are tasked with ignoring them and keeping their eyes on the road. For example, chatting with a driver can be distracting: can someone be arrested for having a discussion with a driver if that driver hits another car? Food and beverages can be distracting, too: should fast food restaurants be sued for accidents if the coffee and burgers they serve cause a distracted-driving accident? The list of possibilities seems endless.

Call us old-fashioned, but we think drivers study and practice in order to minimize their susceptibility to distractions. Blaming accidents on the source of those distractions rather than the person behind the wheel absolves the driver of her/his responsibility in all but the most extreme cases. 

Does that line up with your own opinions on the matter? Sound off in the comments below.  

Bonus: If you haven't seen acclaimed director Werner Herzog's documentary about texting and driving called "From One Second to the Next", it's well, well worth your time. We've embedded it above.

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Comments (6)
  1. How stupid is our legal system, no wait, they already answered that,.......
     
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  2. Hmmm, so I guess that means that the next time I go through a restaurant drive-through and the person handing me my food sees me sip my drink or eat a few fries, that establishment would be liable if I got into an accident because I was trying to eat while driving.

    I guess they'll need to add "don't eat or drink while driving" to "thank you for your order".
     
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  3. Can I sue Howard Stern if he makes me laugh to where I loose focus on driving,................??? has some positives I guess.
     
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  4. Please, lets stop with this crap of making more and more laws! Yes, this law is very lame compared to other practical laws that need to be written and enforced. The person driving and texting/phoning for the 1st offense: 400-500 dollars. The 2nd. offence: 800-1000 dollars. Third offence: 1200-1500 dollars, a 3 month suspension of drivers license. Forth offence (is a person really this crazy to make it to this point yet?) 2000-2500 dollars, loss of license for 6 months. If in this time period caught while driving, have the car impounded and sold to cover court costs/misc. costs as well.
    In other countries, a person gets caught ONCE, and their license is taken away permanently. I feel that the local municipals could/should make money.
     
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  5. just as Christina said I am taken by surprise that any one can get paid $5396 in a few weeks on the internet. these details.... x.co/1yEfY
     
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  6. This just goes along with the cultural trend to stop taking personal responsibility for anything.
     
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