You Be the Judge: The Case of the Second Texter

Is the person who sends a distracting text just as responsible for 
a car accident?

By Vicki Glembocki
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2014

steering wheel phoneNoma Bar for Reader’s Digest

David and Linda Kubert were riding together on David’s motorcycle in Morris County, New Jersey, late in the afternoon on September 21, 2009. As the couple, then both 56, rounded a curve, David saw a truck heading directly toward them. He couldn’t swerve in time, and the two vehicles collided. When David regained consciousness, he realized he was lying on the ground, and his left leg was gone, completely and permanently severed during the crash. The bones in Linda’s left leg were shattered. Doctors amputated her leg later that night.

Eight minutes before the collision, then-18-year-old Kyle Best clocked out of his job teaching swimming at the YMCA and slid behind the wheel of his father’s Chevy pickup. He said he sent a few texts while sitting in the parking lot, then headed to his parents’ house for dinner. While on the road, he sent two texts, the last one eight seconds before dialing 911 to report that he’d been in an accident: His truck had veered over the centerline and struck a couple on a Harley.

In June 2010, the Kuberts sued Best for driving in a negligent and careless manner. Attorneys settled the lawsuit two years later. Best’s 
insurance company paid the couple $500,000. Best pleaded guilty to 
distracted driving, but his license was never suspended. He paid $775 
in fines.

At the same time, the Kuberts’ attorney, Skippy Weinstein, was also building a case against then-17-year-old Shannon Colonna, Best’s girlfriend, who had been texting Best at the time of the crash. In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, Weinstein claimed that Colonna was also liable for the crash because she was “aiding and abetting” by being “electronically present” in the truck.

“Why wouldn’t the person he was texting with—who knew that he 
was driving at the time—be as responsible as he is?” Weinstein asked.

Colonna’s attorney, Joseph McGlone, maintained that Colonna did not know that Best was driving nor that he was reading the texts while driving. “A person might get a text and not read it for three hours or even for three days,” McGlone noted. “How would the texter ever be able to know whether or not someone read the text while driving?”

Should Shannon Colonna be held responsible for a car accident that occurred as she was texting the driver? You be the judge.

Next: The Verdict

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  • Your Comments

    • Laura

      Disagree! Disagree! Disagree! For crying out loud when are people going to start taking responsibility for their own actions?!? The person texting a driver should be allowed to do so. The driver should not check his phone. PERIOD! If I want my husband to pick up bread on the way home. I should be able to text him. He should be able to check his phone when he gets to a stop light or a place where he can pull over and we should have bread with dinner. I know my husband will not check his texts while driving. We’ve made that promise to each other, plus it’s the law.
      How is it any different if I know he’s driving or I don’t? I expect him to pick a safe time to check his texts and he does. HE IS BEING RESPONSIBLE…like people are supposed to be. It seems only in the past 10 years or so, responsibility and consideration for others has taken a flying leap out the window. When did everyone become so entitled to everything they want that common sense and courtesy no longer apply?

    • Martha L

      I’m hoping that Miss Colona & her family has the money to appeal. She shouldn’t be held responsible for her boyfriend’s actions. Those 2 text he sent while driving could have (& should have) waited until AFTER he got to his parent’s house or some other safe place where his truck wasn’t moving.

    • Emily

      Not to mention that no one ever knows if someone will a) pick up the phone b) read the text, or c) even have their phone ON!!!

    • Emily

      Unless person a knows that person b is driving, and texts him/her anyway, they are not responsible for person b if they get in an accident.

    • Diana

      “We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.”

      It’s up to the DRIVER to decide not to read the text because they are driving, not the person sending the text. How can the sender possibly know that the driver would view the text while driving? Even if the sender knew it would be read and that the receiving person was driving, it is the sole responsibility of the driver to obey the laws and to not allow themselves to be distracted by ANYTHING while driving.

    • Pete

      What if you’re walking on a sidewalk and a friend passes you in their car and you yell out “hello” and he or she turns to acknowledge you and crashes ? You definitely knew they were driving and tried to get their attention. I believe similar circumstances to the texting question. My opinion neither should be responsible!

    • Danish Rashid

      I say that during drives any vehicle we should not open our mobiles because an accident can be done in 1second,so,driver should stop after 15minutes and read as well as received the text so I am disagree with this opinion that the fault is of who text the message because he or she don’t know that another person is driving

      • Martha L

        There isn’t always a safe or good place to stop every 15 minutes, but I do agree that drivers are responsible for making sure their vehicle isn’t moving before texting. Although, if there’s a passenger, having the passenger do the texting is also (at least in my opinion, I’m not sure about yours as you haven’t said) perfectly acceptable also.

    • jenifer simpson

      I do not believe that the sender of a text can be held liable as the driver doesn’t have to read and/or send a text even if the sender know he/she is driving!!! It is the drivers responsibility!!!!

    • Debbie

      Where does the accountability end? If we are going to hold the person sending the text responsible for an accident, should we also hold the company that sold the phone contract to the driver because that allowed him to receive a text while driving? The person receiving the text is ultimately responsible for his own decisions – whether it be reviewing a text or answering a phone call, or changing the radio station.

    • Daryl Muellenberg

      Another example of no common sense. The driver and no one else is responsible for their actions. Supposedly it’s ok to call someone while they are driving, or for a driver to be talking on their cell phone, why isn’t that against the law? So if I call someone and leave a voice message asking them to call me back when are they off the road, that’s ok, but if I text that person asking them to get in touch with me after they are off the road, then that is illegal? Absolutely rediculous.