New Jersey woman sued over sending text to someone who was driving

by Walter Olson on May 15, 2012

A judge in Morris County, N.J. is expected to rule soon whether to dismiss Shannon Colonna as a defendant in a lawsuit over a car crash. Colonna was far from the scene at the time, but plaintiffs said she had sent a text message to the driver whose inattention caused the accident, and thus aided and abetted his negligence. [The Record; AP; NJLRA] Update: judge dismisses claims against Colonna.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Still not wearing my seat belt - Page 7
05.24.12 at 11:03 am
Judge: text-sender can’t be sued for recipient’s crash - Overlawyered
05.25.12 at 3:30 pm

{ 16 comments }

1 mojo 05.15.12 at 11:59 am

“Was there any way, at all, for her to know that the recipient was driving?”
“Well, no, not really…”
“Dismissed.”

2 No Name Guy 05.15.12 at 12:19 pm

Hmmmm….they’d better also sue the radio station he was both listening to and going to switch to. If the former hadn’t been playing such a crappy song, he wouldn’t have been distracted in trying to switch the radio to the latter station looking for for the “attractive nuisance” of a better program.

3 Tom Murin 05.15.12 at 12:55 pm

She should be dismissed – but the claim shouldn’t have been made in the first place. If a duty is found not to text someone who is driving – how about a phone call? I don’t recall ever seeing this theory. If we take this theory further – how about the fast food restaurant that has a drive in window. They know, or should have known that the food might be consumed in the car…..

4 Mannie 05.15.12 at 12:56 pm

I got your case dismissed. That will be $5,000. Thank you very much.

5 smart dude 05.15.12 at 1:01 pm

My iPhone also gives me my e-mails and messages, then beeps me whenever either is received.

So is deep pocket Staples or the Obama 2012 campaign liable when I get one of their emails or texts, while driving?

6 leafs004 05.15.12 at 1:50 pm

And what if she did know he was driving? Does that mean she’s liable? Still should be dimissed. Sadly too many of us believe we can multi-task and ignore the task at hand.

And unfortunately this is another example of why I gave up ever riding motorcycles. Even a minor fender bender becomes a major accident when you’re on a bike. Even if it’s not your fault, you’re going to get hurt.

7 Richard Nieporent 05.15.12 at 5:10 pm

That’s the novel legal question confronting Morris County Superior Court Judge David Rand, who heard arguments Friday on a motion to dismiss Shannon Colonna as a defendant in a lawsuit. Rand said he expects to issue his decision May 25, possibly through a written opinion.

Though probably not in a text message!

I am only surprised that he didn’t sue the phone company. After all it is technically possible to determine that the driver is in a vehicle by the fact that the destination cell is changing. And the phone company has a much deeper pocket than some 19 year old.

8 wfjag 05.15.12 at 6:34 pm

The suit may not be without merit. I’ve read a summary that states that Ms. Colonna, age 19, knew that the driver was operating a vehicle when she texted, and there was some back and forth. So, there may be a duty there.

However, why one would sue a 19 year old – who can take out non-dischargeable student loans but can discharge a judgment based on negligence – is questionable? It is unlikely that any insurance she has will provide coverage, and she’s an adult, which should let her parents off the hook.

9 Tom Murin 05.15.12 at 11:05 pm

If she resides at home she would be covered for personal liability under her parents’ homeowners or renters insurance.

10 David Schwartz 05.16.12 at 1:05 am

wfjag: There’s no relationship between the victim and the sender of the text message from which a duty could arise. This would reduce to “everyone has a duty to everyone”. How about sign spinners? Don’t they have a duty not to distract drivers?

11 wfjag 05.16.12 at 9:15 am

@David Schwartz: A universal duty of reasonable care is generally recognized, even under states that apply the Restatement (2d) of Torts. The duty is broadened by the Restatement (3d).

However, I agree with you to the extent you mean that more than negligence should be necessary. It is fairly well established that texting and driving reduces the driver’s performance to the level of someone who is DUI, and this is fairly well known. If Ms. Colonna was aware that the guy was driving, a recklessness or intentional tort appears possible.

RE: sign spinners — while I think they are really obnoxious, there’s no proof that they are unreasonably dangerous.

@ Tom Murin: Most homeowners’ and renters policies have intentional torts exclusions. (see response to Mr. Schwartz). Also, I have seen nothing indicating that she was at home or doing anything which would trigger coverage under the typical provisions of such policies. While it is possible, it seems like a long shot. This looks like a long hours for no pay type of allegation (unless she has a trust fund or there are some other facts indicating that she isn’t likely judgment proof). IMO, this looks like a suit by an attorney who failed to adequately screen and investigate his case first. I suspect that his best chance of collecting will be under his own client’s UIM coverage.

12 Tom Murin 05.16.12 at 10:18 am

@wfjag: Intending an action (sending a text) is not the same as intending an injury. You’re clearly not familiar with how the intentional acts exclusion works. Ditto with personal liability coverage – you don’t have to be on the insured property for it to apply.

13 Mark Biggar 05.16.12 at 11:28 am

As texting is a store and forward system, unless he’s claiming that the notification beep on his phone is what distracted him he has no reason and (depending on the state law an legal obligation not) to attempt to read or reply to that text until he’s in a safe situation (not driving). That appears to be an intervening negligent act between the sending of the text and the accident. Even if there was a back and forth texting conversation, any reasonable person would assume that the other person is in a safe and legal situation to have that conversation so I don;t see how there can be any negligence on her part.

14 mike 05.16.12 at 12:21 pm

should be “Dismissed with SANCTIONS to plaintiff”

15 mtnrunner2 05.19.12 at 12:47 pm

What about the phone manufacturer? Deep pockets! What about the cell-tower maker, the screen manufacturer, the chip maker? What about the billboard company whose billboard they glanced at? What about the musician who wrote the song they were jamming to? What about the crow that flew over, which they saw?

Insane. But we all know the world has lost sight of a sane definition of “responsibility”.

16 Jim 05.23.12 at 4:38 am

So, the lesson here is never, under any circumstances, ever text anyone lest they be doing something you know nothing about and from which the text distracts them and therefore makes you liable to a judgment that will destroy your entire financial future. Hmmm… that applies to phone calls, email, instant messaging, US postal mail that they might open and read, gee, just about any form of communication. I’ll have to just give it ALL up because some lawyer will sue me if someone else does something stupid with my communication. Shakespeare was right.

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