While courts and lawmakers deal with the increasingly pervasive issue of distracted driving, a recent case in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania Gallatin v. Gargiulo, shows that anyone sending a text message may now face liability if he or she knowingly distracts a driver who ends up in an accident.
In an apparent case of first impression, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge John W. Hodge allowed negligence and wrongful-death claims to proceed against two men who were texting a female driver around the time she struck and killed motorcyclist Daniel Gallatin while she was distracted by her phone. The court explained that in order to be liable, a person must know or have reason to know that the person he is texting is driving and that this person will be distracted by the phone as a result of receiving the text. This is a relatively high bar to meet, yet some attorneys still think allowing liability in such cases goes too far.
Proponents of liability for sending texts to drivers argue that imposing such liability is another step towards reducing distracted driving because people will be more careful about texting people whom they know are driving. Opponents argue that it will leave plaintiffs seeking damages from people who shouldn’t be held responsible for a driver’s dangerous conduct, considering it is ultimately the driver’s decision to look at a phone while driving. Additionally, some fear that such rulings leave unclear the responsibilities of a person sending a text, and that individuals may need to hire attorneys at their own expense in order to prove that they simply did not know the recipient of the text was driving.
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