Many courts have ruled that persons operating motor vehicles, who are distracted due to the use of a cell phone for calls or messaging, can be liable on the basis of negligence for accidents they cause. They also may face criminal liability for manslaughter. And, if the driver is operating a vehicle in the course of employment, his or her employer may be vicariously liable for the accident. This is an important reason for churches, like any employer, to adopt a cell phone policy.
A recent New Jersey case recognized an entirely new form of liability associated with the use of cell phones. A New Jersey court ruled that a person sending a text message to another may be legally responsible for injuries caused by the recipient's distracted driving, if the sender knew that the recipient was driving a vehicle at the time of the communication. This article will summarize the facts of this extraordinary ruling, explain the court's ruling, and assess its significance to churches and church leaders.
On a fall afternoon a husband and wife (the "plaintiffs") were riding on their motorcycle down a state highway. As they traveled around a curve, a pick-up truck driven by an 18-year-old male ("Kyle") crossed the center line of the highway and entered their lane of travel. The husband, who was driving the motorcycle, attempted to evade the pick-up truck but could not. The front driver's side of the truck struck the plaintiffs' motorcycle. The plaintiffs survived the accident, but both were severely injured and each lost a leg.