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Can the sender of a text be liable for distracted driving accident?

If driver causes a serious accident because they are distracted by a text message on their phone, can the sender of that message also be held liable for the crash? That was a question presented to court recently after a serious car accident in which a distracted driver caused an accident while reading an incoming text message. According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, the crash caused severe injuries to the occupants of the other car involved in the accident. The victims of the crash, a husband and wife each lost a leg as a result of the crash.

The couple that was injured argued that the woman who sent the text message should have known that the recipient was driving and the text message was likely to distract him. Of course a driver has a duty to act responsibly on the road and this includes paying sufficient attention to their surroundings. But how broad is the potential scope of liability?

Generally, when determining whether someone may potentially be liable for causing injuries to another person, the court will consider whether their actions were such that it was reasonably foreseeable that an injury to another person would result. In this case, the woman who sent the text said that she did not even know whether the recipient was driving at the time that she sent it.

Even if the sender of the message had known that the recipient was driving, the court reasoned that it is reasonable for the sender of a text message to assume that the recipient would act responsibly. That is, not read the message until he was no longer driving the car. The judge said that drivers have many potential distractions, including signs on the road and GPS notifications, but that it remains the driver's responsibility to maintain his focus on driving safely.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Judge: Texter not liable for New Jersey driver's crash," Andrew Duffelmeyer, May 25, 2012

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