Texting while driving has been illegal in Pennsylvania since 2012. But, pending the outcome of a civil trial in PA, you could be liable if you send a text to someone you know is driving. This expansion of liability should be on the radar of everyone in Pennsylvania with a cell phone, regardless of whether you text and drive.

Using a Phone while Driving in Pennsylvania

According to Section 3316(a) of the Vehicle Code, drivers are prohibited from sending, reading, or writing a text message while driving a vehicle. If you are charged, you face a $50 fine.

But based on the outcome of a civil case happening right now in western Pennsylvania, this law could affect anyone texting someone they know is driving.

The Case

In a recent preliminary ruling in a civil action in Lawrence County, PA, an individual was added as a defendant because he was allegedly texting someone whom he knew was operating a moving vehicle. The driver with whom he was texting negligently struck and killed a motorcyclist while reading and responding to the texts.

The man filed preliminary objections, claiming he is not liable for the driver’s actions in reading a text message. The judge overruled this objection, meaning the man will remain a party as the case goes to trial. That means a jury will decide, among other things, 1. if this man was communicating via text message with someone driving, and 2. to what extent he is liable for the claims of negligence and wrongful death.

Repercussions of This Case

To our knowledge, this is the first case in Pennsylvania to deal with the liability of sending a text message to a driver, though there is precedent in other states. In the Judge’s decision, he cited Kubert v. Best, a 2013 New Jersey Superior Court decision, writing:

“[T]he sender of a text message can be liable for sending a text message while the recipient is operating a motor vehicle if the sender knew or had reason to know the recipient was driving.” [source]

Given the rise of texting while driving accidents across Pennsylvania, it is likely that we will see other civil cases pop up connecting those sending text messages with the liability of accidents. It also leads to the potential of someone being charged with manslaughter for sending a text message to the driver.

Regardless of the final outcome of this case, this preliminary ruling should cause all of us to rethink sending a text to someone whom we know is operating a motor vehicle at the time.