MONTREAL – An insurance and legal expert says texters could be held liable for any damages if they message someone they know is driving and that person has an accident.
“There’s an increasing public safety issue of operators of vehicles who are distracted while driving,” lawyer Jordan Solway said in a recent interview. “And if you contribute in the same way as if you’re in the vehicle, and you interfere with their driving of the vehicle, you could be held responsible for that injured third party.”
Solway, vice-president of claim at Travelers Canada, pointed to a New Jersey court ruling from 2013 that said the sender of a text who causes a driver to become distracted and have an accident may be held liable.
The case involved an 18-year-old driver’s girlfriend who texted him about 25 seconds before his pickup truck crossed a median and seriously injured a motorcyclist and his wife. Both bikers lost their left legs as a result of the 2009 accident.
Solway said there have been no similar cases in Canada yet, but he believes it’s just a matter of time.
He compares it to what happens when a bar owner or the host of a party has to take responsibility for someone who is drinking, becomes intoxicated and gets into a vehicle.
“It’s analogous – you’re putting someone in a position where they could cause harm to themselves or a third party,” Solway said.
Travelers Canada also commissioned a recent online survey that delved into what may be distracting drivers.
The No. 1 reason may not be surprising.
Thirty-one per cent said it was because they have family obligations that require constant attention. By gender, 40 per cent of females gave that reason, while it was 23 per cent among males.
In Quebec, 23 per cent cited family obligations, while in Ontario the figure was 41 per cent.
When it came to other reasons, 27 per cent said they didn’t want to miss something important, another 14 per cent said they always wanted to be available for work and eight per cent said they were afraid of upsetting the boss if they didn’t answer.
“I think it’s a (consequence) unfortunately of living in a highly connected world where, if someone doesn’t respond immediately to an email or a text, your concern is they are ignoring you,” Solway noted.
The Harris Poll was conducted March 9-12 and involved 948 Canadian drivers aged 18 and over.
An Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesman says companies must implement policies to discourage drivers from texting – and individuals who may be texting them – while they are on the road.
“The aspect of determining liability or fault in cases lke that would rest with the courts,” Pete Karageorgos said in an interview. “It has to be a whole host of instances in terms of not just the act of texting, but also the act of reading the text or responding or having that phone in your hand.”
He said some insurers are seeing more instances of rear-end-type collisions which typically happen when the driver in the back isn’t paying attention.
“It’s a concern that we share as an industry because that will impact premiums,” Karageorgos added. “But Quebec’s automobile insurance board provided some encouraging statistics involving drivers who violated the law, which prohibits the use of a hand-held device while driving.
The highest number was in 2013 when there were close to 68,000 infractions, including 19,000 that involved drivers between the ages of 25 and 34.
But in 2016, the overall total dropped to 46,369. For the 25-34 age group, it decreased to just more than 14,000
The lowest number was in 2008 when there were about 18,250 violations.