Courting Justice: Driving While Intexticated

September 11, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn

The latest legal development getting a lot of news play is a court opinion out of the State of New Jersey. An Appellate Court has ruled that if you text someone who is driving, and you know they are reading your texts, you could be held liable if the distraction you are creating causes the driver to crash and injure others.

In essence, this court has created a new theory of negligence. Obviously, if we are driving a car and allow ourselves to be distracted by texting, we are being negligent. Now, if you know that the person you are texting is driving and reading your texts, you are being negligent. Otherwise stated, you are being careless when you text someone who is driving and reading texts.

The ramifications of this ruling are interesting. On one hand, it should make the streets safer by deterring people from texting drivers. That’s a good thing, right? But leave it to the tort reformers to place a negative spin on it. I recently read an article where the author lamented the fact that such a ruling provides plaintiff lawyers with a new reason to sue people. A lawyer representing a victim of a car accident will not only sue the negligent driver but will also sue the person texting the negligent driver.

My question to my tort reformer friends is: “Why is that a bad thing?” We all live in this world together. In order for us to co-exist peacefully, there are numerous laws intended to deter people from careless conduct in public. One purpose of our tort laws is to deter negligent conduct towards one another by establishing consequences. If there were no consequences, there would be no deterrent effect.

Who seeks to enforce the consequences? It’s the plaintiff trial lawyer. It certainly isn’t your insurance company. Admittedly, I could financially benefit individually from this new ruling by suing another party in a case who could compensate my client for his injuries (other than the negligent driver). But I don’t see how that can be bad for the public in general because it’s the only way a rule intended to deter unsafe conduct can have any teeth.

The tort reformers have repeated the mantra that anything that benefits a trial lawyer is bad for John and Jane Q. Public. More often than not, the opposite is true. What’s good for me is good for you.