'Don’t Blame The Texter' Bill Submitted In NJ General Assembly

By James Beattie | September 25, 2013 | 10:19 AM EDT


(AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- A New Jersey state legislator has submitted a "don't blame the texter" bill to protect senders of text messages from potential civil liability if the person they’re messaging from a remote location is involved in an auto accident.

The legislation was introduced on the heels of Kubert v. Best, a decision handed down August 27 by a three-judge panel of the Morris County Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. The three-judge panel ruled that senders of text messages could be held civilly liable for crashes involving recipients of the texts.

Texting while driving is already illegal in New Jersey, but there is no criminal or civil law on the books regarding the senders of text messages, according to a public information officer with the Traffic Safety Division of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

In its ruling, the court rejected the argument “that a sender of text messages never has a duty to avoid texting to a person driving a vehicle. We conclude that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.”

In response, Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Colts Neck) submitted A4410 on September 9th. The bill currently awaits committee assignment. A copy of the pending legislation provided to CNSNews.com by Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Bridgeton), one of the bill’s bi-partisan co-sponsors, reads:

“Any person who sends a text message or other electronic message via a wireless telephone or electronic communication device shall not be liable for civil damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident caused by, either directly or indirectly, the message recipient’s unlawful use of a hand-held wireless telephone while driving in violation of section 1 of P.L.2003, c.310 (C.39:4-97.3). “

According to court documents in the Kubert case, 17-year-old Shannon Colonna texted her 18-year-old friend, Kyle Best, 62 times on Sept. 21, 2009, including a text message she sent right before Best crashed his pick-up truck into a motorcycle, resulting in permanent injuries to Linda and David Kubert, including the loss of both their left legs.

The judges ruled that prosecutors produced no evidence that Colonna was “electronically present” at the time of the accident, or that she urged Best to read and respond to her texts while he was driving. However, they also ruled that people who send text messages to drivers take a “forseeable risk” and could be held civilly liable for any accidents caused by a distracted driver.

Writing for the majority, Judge Victor Ashrafi opined:“The sender should be able to assume that the recipient will read a text message only when it is safe and legal to do so, that is, when not operating a vehicle.  However, if the sender knows that the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately, then the sender has taken a foreseeable risk in sending a text at that time.  The sender has knowingly engaged in distracting conduct, and it is not unfair also to hold the sender responsible for the distraction.”

But some state lawmakers disagree. “At some point we have to be responsible and accountable for our own behavior.  We cannot blame it on who’s texting you,”  Assemblywoman Riley told CNSNews.com.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue.  Riley added. “This is about taking personal responsibility for your behavior, being personally accountable for your behavior, for your distracted driving; Turn the phone off!”