Can a Third-Party Texter Be Held Liable for the Recipient’s Distracted Driving?

A Florida law forbidding text messaging and some other uses of electronic devices while driving went into effect on October 1, 2013. Responsible drivers know they should not send text messages while behind the wheel. But what about sending text messages when the recipient may be driving?

If you know the person you want to text (or call, for that matter) is on the road, it is best simply to wait. But in the end, it is solely the responsibility of the driver to avoid distraction. Or is it?

A recent case in New Jersey may have punched a hole in that theory. Just before an 18-year-old man there veered out of his lane and struck a husband and wife on a motorcycle, he had received a text message from a friend. The trial court dismissed a claim that the friend might be liable in the accident. The appeals court ruled that there was not enough evidence against the friend for the claim, but they left the door open for such arguments in the future, saying that third-party texters could be held liable if they know the recipient of the text message is driving a car.

It remains to be seen whether the legal standard will be upheld or applied in other states. While the actual legal risk one faces in sending texts to drivers is remote, the personal responsibility is clear: if the recipient is behind the wheel, the message can wait.