May 25, 2012 -- A New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled today that a woman who sent a text message to her boyfriend while he was driving cannot be held liable for the motor vehicle accident he subsequently caused.
The decision stemmed from a 2009 case in which Kyle Best, 19, was responding to a text message from his girlfriend, Shannon Colonna, 19, while he was driving his pickup truck when he crashed into a motorcycle and severely injured David and Linda Kubert.
In an unprecedented legal twist, the Kuberts' attorney, Stephen "Skippy" Weinstein, amended the original complaint filed against Best to include Colonna as a defendant in the case, saying that she had been in frequent texting contact with Best throughout the day and ought to have known he was driving.
But Judge David Rand ruled today in Morris County Superior Court that Colonna could not be held responsible for Best's distracted driving.
"Drivers are bombarded with all forms of distractions," Rand told the courtroom, according to The Star-Ledger, a newspaper in New Jersey. "I find that there was no aiding, abetting here in the legal sense. I find it 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 basis of a liability case."
Rand said implicating Colonna as liable for an accident caused by text messaging when she wasn't present in Best's car was an argument that had never been addressed in any previous lawsuits, according to The Daily Record.
Weinstein said in a news conference that the Kuberts, who both became amputees as a result of the accident, "are understandably disappointed with the court's decision today," but that they plan to appeal it once the lawsuit against Best has been decided. The Kuberts recently moved to Florida from New Jersey for financial reasons and were just denied permanent disability status from an insurance company, Weinstein said.
Proceedings against Best, who pleaded guilty to distracted driving, will continue within the next few months.
Colonna's attorney, Joseph McGlone, did not respond to requests for comment following Rand's decision, but he had argued that she shouldn't be held accountable for the accident when she wasn't present in the vehicle.
"I don't think it's a valid claim against her," he previously told ABCNews.com.
McGlone added he had never heard of a case similar to the one against his client being brought to trial.
But Weinstein argued that the couple's back-and-forth texting was tantamount to a verbal conversation.
"She may not have been physically present, but she was electronically present," Weinstein said.
Best pleaded guilty to three motor vehicle citations earlier this year, but his driver's license was not suspended, according to The Daily Record.
The case has again brought up the question of how to balance safe driving with distracting mobile communication devices.
In December last year, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a ban on all "personal electronics" in cars except for those needed for emergencies or driver assistance.
Regardless of whether Weinstein's novel argument that Colonna partially responsible for the crash is ever repeated in future cases, he said the Kuberts "are gratified that if by bringing the case they have accomplished the goal of making people think before they text, whether while driving or while the recipient is driving."