We all know that texting while driving – both reading and sending texts – is dangerous. Does that mean we have a legal duty to avoiding texting someone who’s behind the wheel?

When one text costs a life ….

A Pennsylvania court will address this question next month in the context of a fatal motorcycle accident case. The motorcyclist was rear-ended by an SUV while slowing to make a turn. The SUV driver had a text pulled up on her phone at the time of the accident. Apparently, she had taken her eyes off the road to read the text, which was sent from an employee of her family’s landscaping business.

The motorcyclist’s family is seeking to hold not only the SUV driver accountable, but also the employee who sent that fateful text. They argue the employee knew (or should have known) that the recipient was driving.

Is there any basis for this theory?

While it may seem like a stretch, this same legal theory gained a foothold in a New Jersey case several years ago. The appellate court held that a text sender can be liable if they knew (or had reason to know) the recipient would open the text while driving.

These situations could arguably be similar to “dram shop” liability in drunk driving cases. Most states impose civil liability on someone who serves alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who then gets behind the wheel and kills someone. Even though the server – whether a bartender or social host – didn’t make the deadly decision to drive, they contributed to the tragedy by continuing to serve alcohol. Likewise, the argument goes, the person who texts a recipient they knew to be driving contributes to a dangerous situation, even though it was the driver who made the reckless choice to read the text.

Regardless of what the court decides in this case, one thing is clear: All of us – drivers and passengers, text senders and recipients – should strive to make the roads safer by steering clear of texting while driving.