Be careful when texting a friend who’s behind the wheel. A New Jersey appellate court has decided an individual who sends a text message can share liability in civil cases if the recipient of the message was driving and causes an accident.
Tuesday’s ruling comes in the case of a couple severely injured when their motorcycle was hit by a teenager who was texting and driving in Morris County in 2009.
The motorists had sued his girlfriend who sent him messages. The judges upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit.
The appeals court says someone who texts a motorist is not liable for the driver’s negligent actions. But the texter has a duty to refrain if the person knows the recipient is driving and likely to read the message.
The court ruling is a warning that people who send text messages are putting themselves at risk, according to Jenny Carroll, an associate professor of law at Seton Hall University.
“I think the court is trying to send a message both to teenagers and their parents: liability can exist if this is the type of behavior that goes on,” she said. “If you text somebody, they’re driving, they get into an accident, you may face liability too.”
Carroll recommends asking if the person you’re texting is driving, and if so, you should end the communication.
She says enforcing this could be tricky.
Stephen Weinstein, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the case, said the ruling sends a definite message.
“Don’t text if you know the person is driving,” he said. “Ask that question and if you one life or your save a hundred then the value of this case has been very fruitful.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.