Who Should Be Responsible for Texting While Driving: The Sender or the Receiver?

By Amber Stanford

May 10, 2012 – In the case of a tragic or severely disabling vehicular crash, should the person sending the text be as responsible for the wreck as the person reading it?

In 2009, Kyle Best was involved in a tragic car accident that resulted in David and Linda Kubert both losing their left legs. Kyle, who was only 19 at the time, was responding to a text message while driving his pick up truck and veered into oncoming traffic. He struck the Kuberts motorcycle and their lives changed forever. David and Linda filed a lawsuit against Kyle for his role in the accident. Since then, the case has taken a bizarre twist to also include Shannon Colonna; she was the other party involved in the texts messages Kyle was engaged in at the time of the accident.

This could be a precedent setting case as both sides argue whether or not Shannon could be held liable as a party to the accident since she was not physically present. Once it has been established whether or not Shannon was aware that the recipient of her text messages was actively driving, the judge must determine whether or not she is responsible for being electronically present and the extent of her duty of care. This has the same basis as a physical passenger in the vehicle having a duty of care to not encourage the driver to speed. Shannons lawyer is arguing that she could not possibly be held liable for Kyles conduct behind the wheel since she was not in the car, and she had no control over when Kyle made the decision to read any text messages she sent. According to depositions, Shannon may or may not have known Kyle was driving at the time she sent the messages, but she was also on the record as stating, that this is what teenagers do.

Text messaging while driving is currently illegal in 38 states. This is likely because of the increasing number of similar incidents involving cell phone use behind the wheel of moving vehicles. Kyle plead guilty to three motor vehicle violations as a direct result of this accident: using a hand-held cellphone while driving, careless driving and failure to maintain a lane. The judge is expected to make his ruling regarding Shannon Colonnas involvement and the duty of care precedent on May 25.