NJ Lawmakers Seek to Prohibit Lawsuits Against Text Senders

New Jersey lawmakers are working quickly to reverse a court decision that allows accident victims to potentially hold the sender of a text message legally accountable.

Earlier this year, Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court made headlines when it held that the sender of a text message could be held liable to a third party injured by recipient in subsequent car accident, if the sender knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.

The case, Kubert v. Best, involved a New Jersey distracted driving accident, which resulted in serious injuries. The driver later acknowledged that he had been exchanging text messages with a friend shortly before the crash.

While the court did not hold the sender of the text messages accountable for the victims’ injuries, it did not rule out the possibility that some cases could result in liability. The decision was the first of its kind in the United States and raised a number of complex legal questions regarding what would qualify as “knowingly engaging in distracting conduct.”

Lawmakers apparently don’t want to wait to find out. There are currently two bills working through the New Jersey legislature to put an end to New Jersey text sender claims. According to the New Jersey Law Journal, both enjoy bi-partisan support.

Under A-4410, “Any person who sends a text message or other electronic message via a wireless telephone or electronic communication device shall not be liable for civil damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident caused by, either directly or indirectly, the message recipient’s unlawful use of a hand-held wireless telephone while driving…”

While distracted driving is a serious problem on our roadways, the murky legal decision is unlikely to combat unsafe driving behaviors. As highlighted by co-sponsor Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Bridgeton), “At some point we have to be responsible and accountable for our own behavior. We cannot blame it on who’s texting you.”

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

 

NJ Lawmakers Seek to Prohibit Lawsuits Against Text Senders