Text senders not liable for MVAs.
Byline: Bennett Loudon
New Yorkers do not have a duty to refrain from sending text messages to someone who might be driving, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Fourth Department, has ruled.<br />In a unanimous decision, the court affirmed a ruling issued April 17, 2017, by state Supreme Court Justice Emilio L. Colaiacovo, in Genesee County, who granted a motion for summary judgment dismissing a civil suit against Taylor Cratsley.<br />On Dec. 8, 2012, Cratsley's boyfriend, Collin Ward Crane, was driving home from work while exchanging text messages with Cratsley. Apparently distracted by the text messaging, Crane's car veered into the oncoming lane on Route 33 in Stafford, Genesee County, and collided with a vehicle driven by Carmen Vega, who suffered serious injuries.<br />Crane, a 17-year-old high school student at the time, died.<br />Vega sued Cratsley, claiming the collision was partly caused by her text message exchange with Crane while "having special reason to know" that he was driving a car, according to the Fourth Department's May 4 decision.<br />Vega's attorney, Carol A. McKenna, told the panel during oral arguments on April 3: "Basically our contention is that what we have here is a virtual passenger, and we already recognize the duty of a passenger not to knowingly distract someone who is driving."<br />Colaiacovo "properly concluded that defendant had no duty to refrain from sending text messages to decedent, and thus properly granted defendant's motion," according to the decision written by Justice Shirley Troutman.<br />Kevin E. Hulslander, of Syracuse, who represents Cratsley, said the decision "was a case of first impression in new York for sure."<br />"The only other court that has confronted it was a New Jersey interim appellate-level court which has written a decision that essentially went the other way," Hulslander said.<br />In New York state, a passenger in a vehicle can be liable for conduct that distracts a driver just before a crash. But Troutman noted a distinction between a passenger in a vehicle and a person sending text messages.<br />"The driver cannot prevent the passenger, who is actually present inside the vehicle, from creating a distraction by suddenly and unnecessarily calling out at an imprudent moment. The same driver, on the other hand, has complete control over whether to allow the conduct of the remote sender to create a distraction," Troutman wrote.<br />The sender of a text message "is powerless to compel the driver to read such a text message at an imprudent moment, and has no duty to prevent the driver from doing so," she wrote.<br />If a person sending a text message is held liable in such circumstances, the argument could be expanded to include all sorts of potential distractions.<br />"A billboard, a sign outside a church, or a child's lemonade stand could all become a potential source of liability in a negligence action," she wrote.
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