New Jersey considering lawsuit against woman who texted her boyfriend prior to motor vehicle accident

A Superior Court judge in Morristown, New Jersey is considering whether or not a woman who knowingly texted her boyfriend, while he was driving, and who ultimately crashed into a couple on a motorcycle, can be held responsible in civil court.

According to the report, the 18 year old driver was "glancing" at texts from his girlfriend when he crossed traffic and hit two motorcyclists. The driver plead guilty to using his cellphone while driving, was fined $775, and has to make speeches about the dangers of texting and driving, which is illegal in the state of New Jersey.

The motorcyclists are suing the driver, but are also seeking to have his girlfriend added to the suit as well. Their attorney told The New York Post:

“If you know somebody is operating a motor vehicle, if you know it is illegal to text and drive because it violates the law, if you know it’s dangerous, if you know all this and knowingly send a text, then a jury should decide.”

The girlfriend's attorney told The Daily Record that it's not fair or reasonable, and that the girlfriend has no way to control when her boyfriend is going to read her messages.

A decision is expected May 25.

Now, I'm not an attorney, I do not play one on this blog, and I know next to nothing about contributory negligence, but there does not appear to be any precedence to this case the way there is to drinking and driving cases, for example.

The laws surrounded distracted driving are also patchwork. They often target specific items, like phones, instead of general principles. Putting on makeup. Reading newspapers. Drinking and eating. Changing radio stations. Focusing on GPS. Looking at expensive cars. Staring at scantily clad humans.

Conversely, new technologies are emerging that allow for different ways to interact with mobile devices. Chief among them, Siri. With Siri, instead of staring and typing, you can do more listening and talking. You can hear SMS and dictate responses. When it works.

All of this raises a lot of questions. Should there be specific laws against texting, or should there be more general laws against distracted driving? If there are always against texting, should new interfaces like Siri be exempt? Is having a conversation on the phone, or with Siri, different than having a conversation with a passenger who could, theoretically serve as a second set of eyes on the road?

And if something like texting while driving is illegal, and someone knows you're driving and keeps texting you, should they bear some of the responsibility if an accident occurs?

Source: The New York Post

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Oh pulleeeez.
    She texts him and she should expect HIM to stop and read it. End of story.
  • if this goes thru i am moving out of the country
  • The advantage of texting as opposed to a phone call is, you can text information that can be read when it is safe to do so. It is up to the receiving party top read it only when legal and safe to do so. We need to have some lawsuits against attorneys that are doing the same things. We are going to be so regulated, we will have to know when a person is doing personal things, before we can text them. All that Attourney is doing is costing that girl and taxpayers money and grief.
  • "The advantage of texting as opposed to a phone call is, you can text information that can be read when it is safe to do so"
    Whereas you are required to answer a phone call?
    It is stupid, regardless of whether she sent a text, called him, or waved to him from the top of a billboard.
  • Using this same logic... if one were listening to a talk radio show and got distracted by it, the radio station & talk show host are liable for my actions by being distracted from driving??? Really??? Utter nonsense. The girlfriend can not be held liable in a world where sanity prevails.
  • got to Plus One on that!
    What will the charge be?
    Dangerous Driving by Proxy?????
  • Well this is interesting?
    So they want to make a woman responsible for sending a text message to another person makes the sender responsible for the actions of the recipient?
    Aww come on, not on this planet would a court find the person guilty. Regardless of whether she knew the receiver of the text message was driving is irrelevant to the fact that the receiver of the text message chose to attempt to act on the receiving of the text message.
    I receive text messages all the time, emails all the time, phone calls all the time, even when driving! If I make a decision to act in a way that endangers myself or other road users based on the alert noise then I AM RESPONSIBLE, not the sender, not the caller, not the other people driving around me.
    What sort of craziness is going on in this world!
  • Agree 100%. "Knowing" he's driving is not the same as MAKING him misuse his phone. She has no control over his behavior, either to stop or cause him to answer the text. It's on him. And what would the threshold of "knowing" be that would make the sender culpable?
  • Obviously the more important question is, what type of idiots does New Jersey have operating their prosecution and court system that they would even need to have time to think about this or propose this!
    Sometimes you read something and you have to read it again because it is so unbelievable. If this was April I would have said, Nice April's Fools Joke, fooled me Rene, but it's not.
    Four times I have had to read it again and each time it reads even more unbelievable that the time before!
  • I ride everyday and see people texting when they should be paying attention. If they can prove she knew he was driving, she should be liable as well.
  • Unfortunately, the following points are pertinent; Reacting to any alert in any location at any time is not compulsory. Driver made a decision to react to the text message alert, whether he chose to read and/or reply to text message is again of his volition, he made the decision to react to the alert while his motor vehicle was in motion. Regardless of the fact that the woman knew the person was in transit has no bearing on the fact that he chose to react to text messages. If she didn't know he was in transit and sent the text message the outcome would have been exactly the same. Even if she had not sent the text but another person that did not know he was driving sent one then the outcome would have been the same. You cannot blame everyone. Equally so if this were allowed the Wireless Carrier or carriers would both be accountable for the action of transmission of the text that caused the accident, the Phone makers would be accountable for having devices that allowed the text to be received. So at what point does the blame stop.
    It stops dead square on the Driver of the Motor Vehicle for CHOOSING to react to the alert for a TEXT MESSAGE and/or respond to it!
  • I agree with Stew on this one. I ride a motorcycle almost every day and see the same things Mike does. However, the actions of the driver are the sole responsibility of the driver, no one else. If someone sends me a text message, regardless of where I am or what I am doing, it is my decision when to open and read it. You cannot apply faulty logic to situations like this just because you want to place blame and hold someone responsible. Let's just call this what it is, a cheap money grab by the plaintiffs...
  • When you tell Siri to compose a text, you still have to glance down and see what it says prior to sending . She is not nearly as useful as people say she is.
  • "Siri read me my last message"
  • W.T.F? I'll send my husband when I know he's driving because I know he's going to read it when he's done driving. For example, if he's on the way to Safeway, maybe I'll send "we need milk". Why should I have to wait to send the message? It's his choice on when to read it. This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
  • I think that the context is important. Sending a message that is intended to be read later is of course OK but in this case I don't think that that is true. I presume that the content of the texts was such that the boyfriend felt that he couldn't wait. That doesn't excuse the guy, he was an idiot but then again most 18 year old guys are where their girlfriends are concerned, something to do with a restricted blood flow to the brain I believe.
    If she did expect a nearly immediate reply then she should be punished for her actions. The boys fine seems low compared to the seriousness of the consequences but I feel that that is an appropriate punishment for her as well. Making her responsible for the consequences seems harsh. Presumably the plaintiffs lawyers realise that they have a better chance of recovering some money from two 18 year old defendants than one.
    Unfortunately the number of ways that you can be distracted is seemingly unlimited and I find it hard to believe that there is a technical solution. Making things idiot proof only creates better idiots. The only real solution seems to be early feedback on dangerous behaviour but that is itself difficult to accomplish. There is a great quote that I can't find anymore that basically says that every time we do something unsafe without consequence it reinforces our belief that what we are doing is correct.
    As an aside I treat the "Baby Onboard" signs as an indication that the driver is not concentrating on the road but I don't think that couples should be prevented from having children in their cars.
  • yuuuuuuppppppp
  • Hey Dave!!! Welcome to iMore. Kidding aside, total agreement. I have heard of dumb lawsuits, but she is not at all to blame in this. If this goes through, it will set in motion more problems. Beside the radio, everything will be open season. It is the drivers responsibility alone to drive with due care, and caution. There can be extenuating causes, but it still falls on the driver.
  • I'd agree on 1 text, but a continuing conversation while driving, she's as guilty as he is.
  • Weather or not she knew he was going to look at his phone or her txt, the driver; the person who looked at his phone is responsible. It makes no sense to hold the person who sent the txt accountable because sending a txt is not illegal, no matter what the intentions are.
  • In the UK we have two basic charges - driving without due care and attention, and dangerous driving. What constitutes either is defined by legal precedent and various guidelines. The result is that it is much more common-sense related, as it allows the law to adapt to current trends and, crucially, to the circumstances
    Obviously, it relies upon you trusting your police officers and judges not to be totally dumb, insane, or criminal. Hrm, maybe that's why it wouldn't work in the USA.
    Only joking!
  • Brother, we know you're not, so go straight to hell.
  • In the US it is careless driving, or reckless driving. That would replace your dangerous. Reckless is basically careless driving, but with intent to drive recklessly, with no regard to safety of others. The cops have to prove you were careless, and you intended to drive that way.
  • FU NJ!!! Take that to the jury. Seriously, what's next? That's it! I'm sueing Apple because their products cause me to spend more money on energy costs, cause me insomnia because I'm always on them, and have cause me to develop OCD. I think I'm entitiled to millions because of my pain and suffering. :rolleyes:
  • Oh goody, this means we can sue all spammers and all mobile phone providers when they send us unsoliticted texts when we're driving!
  • so we should call and check the other guy is free to ready the text? ahh..idiots.
  • Frivolous, meaningless, spiteful litigation - the summation of what once used to be a great nation!
  • If I'm on that jury, I'd laugh the plaintiff out of court for unabashed and ridiculous overreach.
  • Why don't we just ban texting, anywhere, anytime
    One less waste of time in our lives.
  • I detest texting. I have the option turned off with my cell service. That said, I don't feel the girlfriend is responsible at all. If this is allowed to stand then we should be able to sue the maker of the phone, the cell service, the maker of the automobile, the government entity that built the street the accident was on, etc., anyone or any business that 'allowed' this to happen. Total BS. The lawyer should be sued for wasting time and money, to say nothing of him being charged with assault on mentality everywhere.
  • New Jersey is retarded. If they allow this, that opens the can for a multitude of frivolous lawsuits. There's no way for people to know when another person is driving.
  • I would assume this would not stop people from doing a view selection source and copying the content from the html code though....perhaps their is a plugin for that though as well?
  • While I'm not supporting the idea of openly holding a text conversation while the person on the other end is driving, I don't believe they should charge girlfriend in this situation. Simply put, the person who 1) was in control of the vehicle and 2) caused the accident was the driver - not the girlfriend. My two cents.
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