You Be the Judge: The Case of the Second Texter
Is the person who sends a distracting text just as responsible for a car accident?
David and Linda Kubert were riding together on David’s motorcycle in Morris County, New Jersey, late in the afternoon on September 21, 2009. As the couple, then both 56, rounded a curve, David saw a truck heading directly toward them. He couldn’t swerve in time, and the two vehicles collided. When David regained consciousness, he realized he was lying on the ground, and his left leg was gone, completely and permanently severed during the crash. The bones in Linda’s left leg were shattered. Doctors amputated her leg later that night.
Eight minutes before the collision, then-18-year-old Kyle Best clocked out of his job teaching swimming at the YMCA and slid behind the wheel of his father’s Chevy pickup. He said he sent a few texts while sitting in the parking lot, then headed to his parents’ house for dinner. While on the road, he sent two texts, the last one eight seconds before dialing 911 to report that he’d been in an accident: His truck had veered over the centerline and struck a couple on a Harley.
In June 2010, the Kuberts sued Best for driving in a negligent and careless manner. Attorneys settled the lawsuit two years later. Best’s insurance company paid the couple $500,000. Best pleaded guilty to distracted driving, but his license was never suspended. He paid $775 in fines.
At the same time, the Kuberts’ attorney, Skippy Weinstein, was also building a case against then-17-year-old Shannon Colonna, Best’s girlfriend, who had been texting Best at the time of the crash. In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, Weinstein claimed that Colonna was also liable for the crash because she was “aiding and abetting” by being “electronically present” in the truck.
“Why wouldn’t the person he was texting with—who knew that he was driving at the time—be as responsible as he is?” Weinstein asked.
Colonna’s attorney, Joseph McGlone, maintained that Colonna did not know that Best was driving nor that he was reading the texts while driving. “A person might get a text and not read it for three hours or even for three days,” McGlone noted. “How would the texter ever be able to know whether or not someone read the text while driving?”
Should Shannon Colonna be held responsible for a car accident that occurred as she was texting the driver? You be the judge.
In May 2012, in a Morris County courtroom packed with reporters and TV cameras, a trial judge dismissed the case against Shannon Colonna, noting that drivers are ultimately responsible for controlling their vehicles. The Kuberts appealed. In August 2013, the appellate court upheld the ruling to dismiss the complaint against Colonna but disagreed with the trial court’s opinion on remote texters: “We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.” Weinstein, the Kuberts’ attorney, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court but later withdrew it. “The decision by the appeals court changed the law,” he explained. “Texting someone you know is driving is now a crime. We wanted it to stay that way.”
Was justice served? Let us know in the comments.