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Can You Be Held Liable If You Text a Driver Who Crashes?

You may have seen the headlines:

What does this really mean? Can you be held liable, just because the person you texted happened to be driving? Does the rule apply to Iowa drivers?

The ruling was part of a court case involving an accident that occurred in September 2009. Eighteen-year-old Kyle Best was driving down a rural highway when his girlfriend, 17-year-old Shannon Colonna, sent him a text. It was one of 62 text messages that the teens exchanged that day.

While Best was reading the text, he drifted across the double center line and hit a motorcycle head-on. The motorcyclist and his passenger suffered serious injuries. Best called 911 just 17 seconds after receiving the text from Colonna. He received two more texts from Colonna while at the scene of the accident.

David Kubert and his wife Linda lost their legs in the accident. The Kuberts filed a lawsuit against Best, but they also felt that Colonna was responsible. They believed that because she knowingly distracted Best while he was driving, she was also responsible for their motorcycle accident injuries. Their attorney argued that she was willfully causing a distraction and could be sued.

Three New Jersey appeals court judges agreed that “the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted." But the Kuberts did not win their lawsuit against Colonna. She was in the habit of sending her boyfriend more than 100 texts a day whether he was driving or not. She did not know that Best was driving, so the court decided she had no responsibility. Because she didn’t knowingly cause distraction, she could not be held liable. The Kuberts are appealing that decision.

The judge agreed that the driver is ultimately responsible for deciding whether or not to read a text.

Drivers in Iowa and in New Jersey have an obligation to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The driver is the one who makes the choice to look at a text or answer a phone, and the driver is responsible for any injuries that result.

The Cedar Rapids accident lawyers at Hupy and Abraham help those who injured by distracted drivers get accountability, but we also want to prevent Iowa distracted driving crashes. We are offering free "DNT TXT N DRV" bumper stickers to residents of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. To get your free sticker, fill out the request form or call Hupy and Abraham at 888-807-2752.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham
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