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LawCall - texting

If you’re texting with a friend who is driving their car while texting, can you be held liable if that friend is in an accident? That was the question for a New Jersey court.

A couple had set out for a Sunday afternoon drive on their motorcycle. The day was beautiful, sunny skies and the leaves had begun to fall as the seasons changed. They were taking a break from the grind of their 9 to 5 jobs and were happy to hit the road.

James and Margie had driven the back roads many times. It was a scenic route that they very much enjoyed, and the road had a few curves, which made the drive more fun. That is, until this particular Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, several miles away, Mark had left the restaurant where he waited tables on the weekend. He was a college student and picked up extra shifts where he could to bring in some spending money.

After getting into his pickup truck, he texted a friend with whom he was going to watch a Sunday afternoon football game. The two texted back and forth a few times, and then Mark rounded that curve.

He called 911 within 10 minutes after his last text with his friend. He was calling for help after he crashed head-on with James and Margie on their motorcycle.

While Mark was not seriously injured, James and Margie suffered life-threatening injuries. James’ leg was completely severed in the crash. Margie suffered massive internal injuries.

The couple sued Mark; his insurance paid them $500-thousand dollars. He pleaded guilty to distracted driving.

The couple also decided to sue the friend with whom Mark was texting at the time of the crash, saying that the friend was guilty of “aiding and abetting” by being “electronically present” in the truck.

Should the friend be held responsible for the accident because he was texting the driver?

A New Jersey judge dismissed the case saying that drivers are ultimately responsible for controlling their vehicles. However an appellate court upheld the ruling but disagreed with the trial court’s opinion on remote texters: “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 that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.”

Texting someone you know is driving is now a crime in New Jersey.

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