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Text Sender Included in Injury Liability

If there is one thing as common as the use of cell phones, it’s concerns about the safety of cell phones. We worry about the safety of our information on cell phones -- as they may get “smarter”, so do their hackers. Scientists even disagree about their effect on our health – maybe they cause cancer, maybe they don’t. But one thing we know for sure: cell phone use does and has led to an increase in traffic accidents and fatalities. This is why more and more states have enacted laws regarding cell use while operating a vehicle. Today, most are aware not only of the physical risks, but that we risk tickets, fines, and even jail time. There is little doubt that such a driver can also be held liable for any damages and injuries they cause. But in a recent surprising lawsuit, the question was raised, “Can the person on the other end of the line be held equally liable?”

In 2009, David and Linda Kubert were injured in a collision when a truck collided with their motorcycle. Both of the Kuberts lost a leg in the accident, and the driver who caused the accident, Kyle Best, was charged with multiple traffic violations. One of those violations was for using a handheld device while operating a vehicle. An investigation showed that Best was exchanging text messages with his girlfriend, Shannon Colonna, when the accident occurred. Understandably, the Kuberts sued Best for civil damages relating to their injuries. In a twist, however, their lawyer amended the lawsuit to include Colonna. According to the Kuberts’ attorney, Skippy Weinstein, Colonna shared liability for the accident as she was “electronically present” when the crash occurred. In short, he argued that she knew Best was driving when she texted him, making her partially responsible. Or as Weinstein stated in an interview with MSNBC, “She and he were assisting each other in the violation of the law.” While this exact type of suit has no precedence, similar suits by Chicago personal injury lawyer’s against those encouraging or participating in injurious events do.

Colonna’s attorney argued for dismissal of the suit, stating that a person sending a text could not be held liable as they would have no way of knowing or controlling when or how their message is read. Ultimately, the Superior Court Judge presiding over the case ruled in favor of dismissal of the suit against Colonna. The dismissal sets precedence for similar cases in the future; however, now that the specter of such liability has been raised, it is unlikely to be the last of its kind.

Despite its dismissal, this case helped to raise the question of responsibility for not just drivers, but those on the other end of the line. And hopefully, it helped to increase awareness that if not legally or financially responsible, we all have a moral responsibility when calling or texting to ask first, “Are you driving right now?”

About the Author: Brooke Haley is a Marketing Associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyers that practice in the areas of Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts in the State of Illinois. For more information about Illinois workers compensation attorney,please visit www.millonpeskin.com.

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