New Jersey Judge David Rand has decided not to impose civil liability on Shannon Colonna, a woman who was sued for texting a driver who then caused an accident. David and Linda Kubert were left amputees after Colonna texted with Kyle Best, who happened to have been driving at the time.
The couple claimed that Colonna knew or should have known Best was driving. This, they argued, made her liable for aiding and abetting Best's negligence. She was "virtually present."
Judge Rand had little to work with, according to The Wall Street Journal. The question had never before been asked in New Jersey. There was also little authority from other states.
But Rand concluded that it is the driver's responsibility to pay attention to the road, explains The Star-Ledger. He went on to explain that "[I]t is unreasonable to impose a duty upon the defendant in this case under these facts. Were I to extend this duty, in my judgment, any form of distraction could potentially serve as a basis of a liability case."
This conclusion isn't particularly surprising. Civil liability for aiding and abetting can only be imposed when a person encourages or substantially helps another breach a duty owed to the plaintiff. The defendant ordinarily has to be aware that he is promoting or assisting the breach.
To imply that Shannon Colonna substantially helped or encouraged David Best drive in a negligent fashion is a bit far-fetched. Even if she knew he was driving, it was wholly his decision and responsibility not to answer his phone. It would be also difficult to conclude that a single text was substantial enough to meet the legal requirements of aiding and abetting.
Also keep in mind that, if, Judge Rand had found otherwise, almost everyone could be sued for texting a driver. No one really wants that.