Judge: Text sender is not liable for ‘electronic presence’ in a car accident

Texting while driving dangerous

Earlier this month, we reported that a New Jersey couple was suing the man and the woman with whom he was texting for the motor vehicle accident that caused the couple to both lose their left legs. According to the decision made on Friday in the State Superior Court in Morris County, New Jersey, the woman cannot be held accountable for an “electronic presence” that caused the driver to crash into the couple.

The couple, David and Linda Kubert, argued that driver Kyle Best was replying to a text from his girlfriend Shannon Colonna before he drove his Chevy truck onto oncoming traffic and collided head-on with the Kuberts’ motorcycle. Their lawsuit also sought retributions from Colonna whom they claimed knew Best was driving and should be charged guilty for being “electronically present” in the accident. The New Jersey judge ultimately dismissed the case against Colonna since she cannot be held accountable for Best’s decision on when he should have read her text, reports CBS News.

Of course, it’s no surprise that the Kuberts’ argument seems rather flawed. If the judge ruled that Colonna is in fact responsible, every text message we ever send would become liable to whatever decisions the recipient makes while reading the text. While it seems fair to note that Colonna can be more careful, in the end, it was Best who committed the crime. A commenter in the original post also makes an interesting point that if an organization or educational institution — Virginia Tech, for example — sends out an alert of a gunman on campus, is it truly the recipient’s fault for reading said emergency text? Are there disclaimers by organizations that alert messages should be read in a more convenient time?

This unique case also brings up the concept of being “electronically present” during criminal activities. Rene Ritchie of iMore brings up a future situation: Could one truly provide electronic presence in robberies or homicides and be held accountable? How would those instances compare to a physical presence as a witness to a crime?

Best was 19 years old at the time of the accident, and had since pleaded guilty to three violations of New Jersey law. Perhaps we should continue to inform young people that texting and driving don’t mix the way Belgium has with its new drivers before they can get their licenses. Nothing is a better lesson than a first-hand experience.

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