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Can the Sender of a Text Message be Held Liable for a Resulting Crash?

May 17, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In Pennsylvania, it is against the law for drivers to read or send text messages while they are operating a vehicle. While this law has undoubtedly prevented a number of car accidents, it is often difficult to enforce and an alarming number of collisions are still caused by distracted driving on a daily basis. Fortunately, those who are injured in accidents caused by negligent drivers can hold those individuals accountable by collecting compensation for their losses. Although it is well established that a person who causes an accident while reading or writing a text is considered negligent, a recent case has raised the issue of whether the person who sent the text can also be held accountable for resulting injuries.

Gallatin v. Gargiulo

The lawsuit in question was filed after a Pennsylvania man lost his life in a motorcycle accident and it was discovered that the car that struck him was being driven by someone who received a text message only seconds before the accident. The case is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, although a similar issue was recently raised in New Jersey, where a Superior Court ruled that a text message’s sender can be held liable for injuries resulting from an accident caused by the recipient’s reading of the message. The judge also clarified that before a sender can be held liable, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the sender knew or had reason to know that the recipient was driving. Referencing this precedent, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that the case could be litigated.

Liability for Acting in Concert

In allowing the case to be litigated, the judge also cited a rule regarding liability for those who act in concert, which states that a third person can be held liable for the conduct of another if he or she:

  • Committed a negligent act in concert with another person;
  • Knew that the other person’s conduct constituted a breach of his or her duty, but still encouraged or assisted in the action; or
  • Substantially assisted another person in accomplishing a negligent action, and his or her own conduct, when considered separately also constituted a breach of duty to a third party.

Now that the case is moving forward, it remains to be seen whether a jury will decide that the defendant knew or had reason to know that the recipient was driving. A court that determined that this requirement was satisfied, however, could find the defendant liable for acting in concert with the negligent driver.

Schedule a Consultation With an Experienced Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorney Today

The Gallatin opinion was issued by a trial court, which means that it is not yet binding law and will only become so if a Superior Court affirms it. However, the case could still have important repercussions for who can be held liable for a distracted driving accident. Please call van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim at (215) 486-0123 today to speak with an experienced Philadelphia personal injury attorney who can explain your legal options.



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