NJ Judge finds that "electronic presence" doesn't attach liability for a crash.

A case involving texting behind the wheel and an injured motorcycling couple was decided by a New Jersey judge on Friday. Judge David Rand dismissed the claim made by the couple that a woman’s sending text messages to her boyfriend did not make made the woman liable for the crash that injure them.

A woman who texted her boyfriend while he was driving cannot be held liable for a car crash he caused while responding, seriously injuring a motorcycling couple, a judge ruled Friday in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the country.

A lawyer for the injured couple argued that text messages from Shannon Colonna to Kyle Best played a role in the September 2009 wreck in Mine Hill. But Colonna’s lawyer argued she had no control over when or how Best would read and respond to the message.

The boyfriend was juggling his cell phone while driving and, with his attention not where it should have been, he caused the crasah that seriously injured the couple on the motorcycle. The man on the cycle had his left leg torn off at the knee while his wife had to have her left leg amputated. It’s tragic and it was completely avoidable if only Kyle Best been doing what he was supposed to be and not putting his apparently incessant stream of text messages at the top of his priority list. But the fault for the crash is entirely in Best’s hands, not his girlfriend’s.

She sent a message, yes, but it’s absolutely the boyfriend’s call on when and where he decides to read and respond to it. The lawyer for the couple argued that Colonna (the girlfriend) was “electronically present” in the accident since she “should have known” that Best was driving and texting. All due respect to the injured couple, but that’s just a matter of plaintiffs casting the widest possible net in a court case. The fact of the matter is the cell system isn’t completely predictable as to when a text message gets delivered. I’ve had texts sent to me that took up to 15 minutes to finally get delivered – some probably longer, depending on where I was at the moment. And, besides that and as I’ve already said, it’s up to the recipient to make the decision on when to read that text. There was no requirement that Best try to handle texting while driving and the decision to do so makes him responsible for any consequence that accrues.

This was a good decision by the judge. As much as I dislike the texting-while-driving that I see in increasing frequency these days, the responsibility is on the driver to act responsibly, not the potential sender to clairvoyantly know that a given person is behind the wheel.

(Update: Corrected a critical sentence in the 1st paragraph. The claim dismissed was that the woman was responsible.)

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