Texting a driver while they are operating a vehicle may open you up to liability in the state of New Jersey, per a ruling from the state appeals court. Judges have just agreed that safely stationary texters can bear some responsibility if the driver they’re texting causes any trouble—but it all depends on the knowledge and intent of the texter. “We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting,” wrote the judges (PDF), “but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.” The ruling is an interpretation of an existing New Jersey law that created “criminal penalties for those who are distracted by use of a cell phone while driving and injure others.

The new law explicitly permits a jury to infer that a driver who was using a hand-held cell phone and caused injury in an accident may be guilty of assault by auto.” But the law didn’t address civil cases, nor did it cover the liability of remote texters.

The question before the judges was whether, as a matter of common low, civil suits could target those outside the car who knowingly distract the driver.     

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