However, the court in Kubert ultimately held that, under the particular facts of that case, the plaintiffs’ claims failed because they had not provided actual evidence “to show that Colonna urged Best to read and respond to her text while he was driving.” The fate of the case was ultimately determined by the critical lack of evidence, as the plaintiffs were unable to produce the text of the messages themselves, which could have shown that Colonna knew that Best was driving during their conversation. Without the messages, the court found that there was no way for the Plaintiffs to show that Colonna had the knowledge required to hold her liable for the accident. The Kubert court held that for a defendant to be liable in this situation, there must be evidence that the defendant knew or should have known that, “the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately.”

The dangers of distracted driving are well documented and are here to stay, as phones have become larger, more advanced, and more capable of being a dangerous distraction to a driver. In cases where a party contributes to this distraction by texting or messaging the driver of a motor vehicle, whom the sender has reason to know is driving and will likely read the message while driving, the law provides a narrow window to hold that person accountable for any resulting harm. However, in any case where distracted driving may have played a role in an accident, evidence preservation and thorough discovery will be key to determining whether a text message sender may be liable for creating a dangerous and distracting condition.

Rob Braker leads the vehicle accident and premises liability practice teams at Saltz Mongeluzzi and Bendesky. His cases involve complex passenger vehicle, motorcycle and pedestrian accidents, commercial trucking accidents, serious injuries occurring on unsafe commercial properties, and claims against negligent alcohol servers.

Pete Veloski is an is an associate at  the firm who represents individuals who have suffered serious accidents and catastrophic injuries.

Originally published by The Legal Intelligencer on November 3, 2021.