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Liability for Texting and Driving in South Carolina

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 1 in 5 auto accidents involve a driver who was distracted such texting on a cell phone. NHTSA studies show that using a cell phone while driving delays the driver’s reaction time as much having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 (the legal limit in South Carolina).

South Carolina is one of the few states without a law making it illegal to text while driving. However, a driver may be liable in South Carolina’s civil courts for any injuries they cause in a texting-related automobile accident. But what about the person who is texting the driver? Can they also be liable for an accident caused while texting and driving?

Recently, an appeals court in New Jersey became the first court in the U.S. to rule that third-party texters could be responsible in texting-related automobile accidents. In that case, a 17-year-old girl sent a text message to 18-year-old boy before his pickup truck veered out of its lane and hit a married couple who were on a motorcycle. The husband and wife each lost a leg as a result of the accident. The appeals court ruled that third-party texters, such as the 17-year-old girl, could be held liable if they knew that the person they were texting is behind the wheel. The appeals court wrote that “when a texter knows or has special reason to know that the intended recipient is driving and is likely to read the text message while driving, the texter has a duty to users of the public roads to refrain from sending the driver a text at that time.”

Whether South Carolina’s court also hold third-party texters responsible remains to be seen in future cases. If South Carolina’s legislature finally outlaws texting while driving, and if other courts across the nation hold third-party texters responsible for accidents, then South Carolina may follow the same trend.

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