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Judges rule text senders could be liable in civil court

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Drivers may be charged with reckless driving. In case the driver causes an accident due to the use of cell phone, the offender can pay up to $150,000 and face up to 10 years in prison. Photo Illustration by Jessicarose Fattibene.
Drivers may be charged with reckless driving. In case the driver causes an accident due to the use of cell phone, the offender can pay up to $150,000 and face up to 10 years in prison. Photo Illustration by Jessicarose Fattibene.

Three New Jersey State Appeals Court judges: Judges Ashrafi, Espinosa and Guadagno, announced on August 27, 2013 that text senders, with substantial evidence, may be liable to a civil lawsuit should their message cause an accident.

The decision came after the Kubert v. Best case. In September 2009, in Mine Hill Township, NJ, Shannon Colonna and Kyle Best were texting while Best was driving. While responding to Colonna, Best veered into oncoming traffic, striking David Kubert’s motorcycle.

Both David and his wife Linda were severely injured. The Kubert v. Best court documents state, “The collision severed, or nearly severed David’s left leg. It shattered Linda’s left leg, leaving her fractured thigh bone protruding out of the skin as she lay injured in the road.” Both husband and wife had their injured legs amputated.

The Kuberts decided to not only sue Best but Colonna as well. Their attorney, Stephen Weinstein, argued Colonna’s electronic presence in the car should be regarded as if she too were physically in the car with Best and negligently distracting him.

The court documents released on August 27, 2013 found Colonna to be innocent due to lack of evidence to prove she knew Best was driving.

The accident caused by Colonna was one of the many cases of auto accidents caused by texting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the USA “In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010.”

According to CDC, the number of injuries due to motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted drivers was 387,000 in 2011 and 416,000 in 2010.

According to The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s website, between 2002 and 2012, the number of injuries related to handheld cell phone usage has fluctuated.

As of 2012, handheld cell phones were the cause of 38 vehicular injuries in Mercer County, the county’s highest number of injuries since 2002.

Second year Business major at MCCC, Brenda Ilg, disagrees with the proposed possibility of being sued for texting a friend. “No one knows where the other person is at the time of texting them.”

Ilg said she understands why an action may be necessary to stop texting and driving. In her previous job a co-worker would send texts and emails by their boss’ request, that only she had the skill to review. Despite making it clear that she was driving, she would still get messages on her phone.

“When a boss wants an answer, he won’t stop,” said Ilg.

John Gall, eight year Game Programming major, is also opposed to the text sender being held responsible.

“Often times vital information or change of plans has to be relayed to someone en route and it is impossible to know precisely when they [the recipient] are or are not driving,” says Gall.

Second year Ornamental Horticulture major, Tre Foster, favors the measure to stop distracted driving. He said it will, “stop more accidents,” and “will save a lot of drivers.”

In an anonymous survey of 30 MCCC students, 63 percent said they do not approve of New Jersey’s potential solution to stop texting and driving.

Outside of the survey conducted on campus, other Mercer County residents approached on the matter were not on board with New Jersey’s Appeals Court’s suggestion.

Rachel Branstrom, a Barista in East Windsor, says, “Even if a person did know that whoever was on the receiving end of a text was driving, that shouldn’t be a reason to be held accountable for an accident.”

“When someone sends a text, it is expected that the other person will read and answer it … when he or she has reached their destination,” continued Branstrom. “The alert for a text coming in won’t cause a crash; if the driver chooses to dig for the phone and attempt to read or reply, that person is the guilty party.”

Mark Naprawa, a Customer Service Rep. of Trenton, told the VOICE the driver has the option of answering or not answering the text. “People need to be held accountable. Yes I may get a text message, but it’s my choice to open that message in my car while driving. How would I know if someone is driving when I text them?”

Although no new laws have been passed, the aforementioned judges are in favor of making the sender of a text message that causes a vehicular accident liable to a civil lawsuit.

In recent years New Jersey has been aggressive in their efforts to stop texting and driving. Under the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis Law,” established in 2012, individuals caught texting and driving will be charged with reckless driving. If an offender causes an accident because of use of a cell phone, the offender could be charged with reckless driving as well.

The fine can go up to $150,000 for vehicular homicide, which is considered a crime of second degree. In addition to the fine, the offender could face up to 10 years in jail.

In case of bodily harm, an offender can be fined anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 and/or face up to 18 months in jail.

In addition to the Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis law, NJ state Senator from District 10 James Holzapfel-(R) proposed new legislation that would allow police to search through cell phones if they have reason to believe the driver was talking or texting at the time of the collision.

Lawrenceville Teacher Marla Savage’s said about the new idea proposed in the Appeals Court: “It will never happen. That’s like saying gun salesmen and saleswomen should be responsible for shootings.”

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