Texting while driving is exceedingly dangerous, and many analysts are saying it is even riskier than drunk driving. Statistics from 2014 show that 404 deaths happened as a direct result of drivers using their cellphones while operating their vehicles. These reckless drivers can be sued for their negligence by the victims’ families; they can also be sued by the people they injure.
All this begs the question: Could non-drivers who knowingly text with drivers while they are operating their vehicles be liable for accidents as well? At this point, there aren’t any cases on the books in the United States where a non-driver was deemed to be criminally responsible in a texting-while-driving accident. However, some legal experts believe that the law could be headed in this direction.
In 2013, for example, two New Jersey residents who had their legs amputated as a result of a crash caused by an 18-year-old texter attempted to also sue a 17-year-old girl who was not driving but was sending text messages to the driver. Although this case was dismissed, the injured couple appealed the ruling.
Ultimately, the Superior Court upheld the lower court’s decision, but not for the same reasons you might think. The court deemed that there was no way to know for sure that the young girl was aware that she was texting with someone who was operating a vehicle. The court actually rejected the defendant’s assertion that senders of text messages should not be held liable in texting-while-driving accident cases.
Based on the Superior Court’s view of this case, it seems possible that in a particularly egregious case of texting, a non-driver who knowingly texts with a driver might be liable — to some degree — for accident damages. As it stands, no such personal injury cases have been successfully tried, but it will be very interesting to watch how this legal issue develops over time.
Source: Quartz, “Forget texting while driving. Soon you could be sued just for texting a driver,” Corinne Purtill, June 02, 2016