A young person is driving down the road, in a hurry to get to work on time now that their college classes are over for the day. While driving, they receive a text from their mother — and they know their mother is aware of the fact that they are on the road. Concerned that something may be wrong or maybe not wanting to upset their mother by not responding, this college student opens their messaging app to read the message and reply. However, because they are distracted, they do not realize that you have stopped at a red light. By the time they see your brake lights, it is too late for them to safely come to a stop. The young person rear-ends your car, and you are injured.
Can the person at the other end of that distracted driver’s text message be held liable for what happened? In some cases, the courts say yes.
Texting and Distracted Driving
We know that distracted driving is extremely dangerous. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation defines distractions as “anything that causes you to either take your attention away from driving, take your eyes off of the road or take your hands off of the wheel.” Texting while driving certainly falls into that category, which is why Pennsylvania has a texting-while-driving ban in place that has a $50 fine to go with it. However, not everyone follows the law, and it only takes a minor distraction of seconds for an accident to occur.
Who is Liable for Distracted Driving
Recent court rulings have indicated that the person sending a text to a distracted driver may be held partly liable, but there are some key criteria. For example, the third-party who is texting the driver who hits you would not be held liable if there was no way for them to know that the individual they were texting was driving — and that is merely common sense. But, even if they do know someone is driving, they still may not be held liable. Many times people send a text message for the recipient to read later; there is no intention behind the message where they would expect the recipient to respond at that moment regardless of what they may be doing.
However, there may exist relationships between people where one has enough influence over the other person to cause them to disregard their safety to respond to a text message. For example, a parent-child or marital relationship might fall into that category. The third-party would have a good idea of how the driver would react to the message and has influence over them. And if that driver is in an accident where you are injured, both the driver and the person that texted them could be held liable for your injuries and expenses.
Pennsylvania Courts and Text-While-Driving Liability
The law in Pennsylvania does not explicitly say that a third-party shares liability in such a case of texting-while-driving, but it does not prohibit you from filing a lawsuit. Such a case came up in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania where a motorcyclist named Daniel Gallatin was killed when a driver hit him with her vehicle and then dragged him along the road while responding to two text messages, one of which was from her husband. The court ruled that the family of Mr. Gallatin could pursue negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against the two men texting the driver.
Note, however, that the court’s ruling did not say they were liable — that would be for the lawsuit to determine — nor did it say that they did anything wrong — again, that would be for the lawsuit to determine. It did, however, make it clear that if you are injured because someone is texting the driver who hit you, that third-party may share in the liability.
That same incident also led to the passing of Daniel’s Law, which includes a sentencing enhancement of up to 5 years for accidents that involve texting while driving that results in death and up to 2 years if there is a serious injury. The horrific and unnecessary nature of Daniel Gallatin’s death truly brought the issues of texting and driving to the forefront of Pennsylvania residents’ minds and has resulted in a low tolerance towards those found guilty of distracted driving.
If you have been injured as a result of someone’s texting-while-driving, then the texter on the other end might also be held liable for your injuries. It depends on several factors, such as the relationship between the driver and the third-party and whether the third-party was even aware that they were driving. However, the state of Pennsylvania takes texting-while-driving cases extremely seriously, and the tide of public opinion is high against those who take risks with the lives of others.
Donaghue & Labrum
If you or someone you care about has been injured as a result of another person’s texting-while-driving, we are here to help. At Donaghue and Labrum, we will fight for the compensation you deserve under the law and can advise you with regard to third parties who may be liable for the injuries and expenses you sustained as a result of the carelessness of others. Allow us to put our 25 years’ worth of experience to work for you. Contact us today for a free consultation — we’ll even meet with you in your home or hospital room.