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Can a text sender be liable for texting a driver that crashes?

On behalf of of Frederick & Hagle posted in Car Accidents on Monday, May 13, 2013.

Texting while driving is illegal in Illinois. If an Illinois driver causes an accident due to texting while driving, the driver could be held financially liable for compensating an injury victim for his or her medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering. This should be well understood by now. However, a new question concerning liability and texting while driving is this: If a driver crashes being texted by a sender that knew the recipient was driving, does the sender carry any liability?

This is a question an appeals court is grappling with after a driver crashed into a couple riding a motorcycle. Both riders of the motorcycle lost a limb when the young distracted driver crashed into the couple while texting. At the time of impact, the driver was texting his then-17-year-old girlfriend. Allegedly, the girlfriend knew that her boyfriend was driving, but she continued to text him. The couple reportedly exchanged a total of 62 text messages in the window preceding the crash.

The injured couple filed a negligence claim against the driver, which he settled, but the couple additionally filed a claim against the girlfriend for aiding and abetting. A district court dismissed the claim against the girlfriend, but the injured couple has appealed to a state court.

One judge appears to express some sympathy for the notion that a sender could be liable for causing injuries to victims if the sender knew the text recipient was behind the wheel. However, the judge grapples with trying to understand how such a measure could be fairly applied. He says, “The question for us is, how do we write up that duty so it is applied the right way?”

Whether or not financial liability could be on the horizon for remote texters, it is important to consider the role each of us can play in promoting safe driving. If text sender knows a recipient is behind the wheel, waiting to send the text would be prudent. No text message is worth a crash, a limb or a life.

Source: ABA Journal, “Can remote texter be liable if driver is distracted by message? Appeals court mulls novel theory,” Martha Neil, May 6, 2013

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