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Couple Injured by Texting Driver Will Appeal Judge’s Ruling

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Anywhere But Here (a texting driver)The New Jersey motorcycling couple who were seriously injured when a texting driver crashed into them are appealing a judge’s ruling. The judge, Morris County, NJ, Superior Court Judge David Rand, ruled on Friday that the teenage woman who texted her boyfriend while he was driving cannot be held liable for his accident. Rand said the decision is the first of its kind in the state.

As this blog reported on May 24, Stephen “Skippy” Weinstein, the lawyer for injured couple David and Linda Kubert, had amended the Kuberts’ lawsuit (in which they were suing Kyle Best, who crashed into them on September 21, 2009, when he was 18) to include the young woman, Shannon Colonna, who is now 20. The Kuberts both lost their left legs as a result of the accident.

Weinstein had argued that Colonna knew, or should have known that Best was driving and therefore she was partly liable. As Julia Terruso wrote in The Star-Ledger on Friday, Weinstein said Colonna’s actions constituted aiding and abetting negligence and that she was “virtually present” at the scene of the accident.

Terruso writes:

The judge denied that claim by dismissing her from the complaint in his summary judgment today. The ruling means that pending an appeal, Colonna can’t be held liable for the injuries the couple suffered in the accident.

Rand told the court his decision does not dilute the importance of attentive driving.

‘We expect more of our drivers. We expect more of the people who are given the license and privilege to operate vehicles on our highways,’ he said. ‘I find that there was no aiding, abetting here in the legal sense. I find it is unreasonable to impose a duty upon the defendant in this case under these facts. Were I to extend this duty, in my judgment any form of distraction could potentially serve as basis of a liability case.’

Rand cited GPS devices, large billboards that line roadways and push notifications from news and other websites as similar distractions drivers must avoid on their own.

Best pleaded guilty earlier this year to three motor vehicle summonses from the crash and was sentenced to pay $775 in fines and to speak at 14 local high schools about the dangers of texting while driving.

In an editorial titled “Get the message: Don’t text drivers” The Star-Ledger’s Editorial Board notes that Colonna said she did not remember whether or not she knew that Best was driving at the time she was texting him, and that her lawyer, Joseph McGlone, had argued it is the person who receives a text message who decides when and where to read it.

The editorial goes on to say:

The boyfriend at the wheel should have pulled over to a rest stop. Instead, he said he’d been texting and glanced down — at the same moment he entered a curve in the road. When he looked up, all he remembers seeing was the motorcycle. […]

Teens know they shouldn’t drink and drive. Yet they see nothing wrong with typing on a highway.

It’s time they got the message. If this girl did know her boyfriend was behind the wheel, she certainly should have waited before tapping out yet another quick missive. In that case, she wouldn’t be legally to blame — but ethically, she would be.

Image by ShuttrKing|KT (KT King), used under its Creative Commons license.

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