Sanity Overcomes a New Jersey Court: Texter Not Liable for Driver’s Crash

 A loss for the trial bar; a win for society


Recently, a judge in New Jersey said a woman who texted her boyfriend while he was driving couldn’t be held liable for a car crash he caused while responding to her, seriously injuring a couple on a motorcycle. The Plaintiff’s lawyer says the woman’s text messages to her boyfriend played a role in the wreck. The plaintiffs’ attorney argued that defendant should have known her boyfriend was driving and texting her at the time. He argued that while the defendant was not physically present at the wreck, she was “electronically present” and asked for a jury to decide the defendant’s liability in the case.  The defendant’s lawyer says she had no control over when her boyfriend would read and respond to the message.

The case is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Let’s hope it’s the last.

One of the duties of a plaintiff’s lawyer is to find as many pockets (the deeper the better) to sue. This involves, in the world of personal injury law, claiming that everyone and anyone near or around the tort (or for that matter, on the planet) had some duty that they breached which resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, there is the legal rule of “proximate cause” which defines the legally recognized cause of an injury. It is seen as an action or actions producing  particular, foreseeable consequences without the intervention of any independent or unforeseeable cause.

The key, at least in this case, is “foreseeable consequences.” Anyone who picks up a mobile device cannot reasonably foresee that the recipient will focus their attention on such message and cause an accident. The “electronically present” argument made by plaintiff’s lawyer in this case sounds great for a Star Trek episode but is not reasonably applicable for today’s day and age.

The judge in this case so much as said such by stating it’s reasonable for text message senders to assume the recipients will behave responsibly, and he also noted drivers are bombarded with many forms of distraction, whether they be text messages, notifications from smart-phones, GPS devices or signs along the road. Should those the manufacturers of such devices also be held liable? While the trial bar may say yes, a reasonable person would say no.

Let’s hope that the New Jersey judiciary keeps such a clear-eyed approach to causation as this judge has shown. If not, people will not only be afraid to leave their homes for fear of legal liability, they will not even pick up their telephone or mobile device, thus causing an undue chill in the everyday affairs of society.

-I.M. Windee


One Comment to “Sanity Overcomes a New Jersey Court: Texter Not Liable for Driver’s Crash”

  1. Maria Lonigro says:

    Finally, a judge with sense!

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