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Pending Pennsylvania Case Could Extend Liability in Texting-While-Driving Accidents

There are good reasons that texting while driving a car in Pennsylvania is a violation of the state’s Motor Vehicle Code. Reading, writing, and sending texts take a driver’s attention off the road and has increasingly led to car crashes. In Lawrence County, one judge’s court opinion could force drivers to think twice before viewing or sending a text message because lawsuits can now be filed not only against the distracted driver who caused the crash but also against the person(s) who sent the text message to that driver. The third party could be liable for injuries and damages if they knew or had reason to know that the driver was operating a motor vehicle at the time they sent the text.

In Gallatin v. Gargiulo, Judge John Hodge allowed the surviving family members of Daniel Gallatin to proceed with a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against not only the driver of the car that caused Gallatin’s death but also the person who had texted her. Laura Gargiulo was reading and sending text messages while she was driving her SUV in May 2013 when she rear-ended Gallatin on his motorcycle. Her distraction and inattentiveness were evidenced by the fact that she pinned down and then dragged Gallatin underneath her SUV for about 100 feet on Route 956 in Hickory Township.

Once the criminal case against Gargiulo was resolved, the grieving Gallatin family felt that that the short jail sentence and fines imposed on Gargiulo were not enough punishment for the loss of their loved one, so they filed a civil suit, against both Gargiulo and the person who had texted her. Operating a motor vehicle comes with a standard duty of care for the driver to pay attention to the road and to be alert enough to prevent accidents. The judge determined that a third party sending a text message to somebody they know is driving “can be liable if he/she encourages another in violating a duty.” The case is currently in the discovery phase.

The Gallatin case also brought about the passage of Pennsylvania’s “Daniel’s Law,” which enhances the liability of a distracted driver who has injured or killed somebody in a car accident while they were texting. Daniel’s Law allows a sentencing judge to add five years to a driver’s sentence for causing a fatal car accident. If the accident occurred in an active work zone, the punishment can include additional penalties. Restitution might also be ordered to pay the victim’s surviving family, even though there is no amount of jail time or money that can help a family fully recover from their loss.

Rudberg Law Offices, LLC can help you understand the effect of new laws regarding texting while driving. Call us at 412-488-6000 or contact us online to speak with an experienced lawyer if you have questions about a car accident resulting from a distracted driver.