Pennsylvania Lawsuit Looks at Liability of Texters


In a personal injury law suit filed in Pennsylvania, the estate of a motorcyc list who died in a car accident has sought compensation from a female driver who was allegedly distracted by reading and answering text messages while driving. Pennsylvania state law prohibits anyone from sending or reading text messages while behind the wheel. But that’s not the issue before the court right now.

Attorneys for the estate have asked the court to consider whether two men (one was the driver’s husband) who were sending her text messages at the time of the crash may have liability as well. Both men have argued that Pennsylvania’s law does not impose liability on them. The court, however, concluded that simply because there is no law prohibiting sending text messages to someone you know is driving doesn’t mean you won’t have liability for any injuries they cause.

Under personal injury law, some types of liability may be established under a statute, where the violation of that law constitutes liability. However, the principles of the common law have long been applied in personal injury actions. This type of law, based on tradition and case law, sets forth the basic concepts of negligence. With a negligence claim, the court looks at whether or not the defendant had a duty to act in a certain way—what the law defines as "reasonable"—and whether that person’s actions violated that standard.

In the case in Pennsylvania, the court reasoned that, when a person knows that the recipient of their text messages is currently driving a motor vehicle, or has good reason to believe so, it is reasonable to expect that their text messages could distract that person from the task at hand—driving the vehicle. Accordingly, it is possible that they will have some responsibility for injury or death caused by the text message recipient.

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