Groundbreaking PA Lawsuit Probes Sender Liability for Text Messages That Cause Fatal Accidents

Like many states, Pennsylvania already has road safety laws that prohibit texting while driving.  From a legal standpoint, there is nothing particularly unusual about attempting to sue a distracted driver who causes an accident while reading text messages.  What’s more controversial is the idea of suing the text message’s sender.  That is now the issue at the heart of a potentially groundbreaking Pennsylvania lawsuit which arose from the death of Daniel Gallatin, 68, of Harlansburg, who was killed in a fatal motorcycle accident caused by texting and driving. Philadelphia motorcycle accident lawyer Brent Wieand examines the issue of sender liability for crashes caused by text messaging.

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Should Text Senders Be Held Liable When Message Recipients Cause Car Accidents?

In May 2013, Daniel Gallatin sustained fatal injuries after his motorcycle became entangled with an SUV driven by 43-year-old Laura Gargiulo, who received a text message moments before the deadly crash occurred.  The text message, received from sender Timothy Fend, read simply, “16 hr day. I don’t get off till 5am. hun.”

“I got the chills thinking about it,” said Mary Lou Gallatin, Daniel’s widow, who described the text as “absolutely pointless.”

“It just ticks us off,” she added.

“This wasn’t an accident,” said Gallatin’s surviving daughter, Michelle Gallatin-Baughman.  “This could have been prevented.  Accidents can’t be prevented.”

After Gargiulo’s criminal case finished, on the civil side, the family turned to a personal injury lawyer to determine whether they could have a case against not only Gargiulo, but Timothy Fend, who sent the message.  While acknowledging it could be difficult to establish whether Fend had breached a duty of care, the family’s representative wasn’t prepared to dismiss the idea outright, drawing parallels to dram shop liability, or liability for liquor stores and other establishments that over-serve patrons who go on to cause car accidents in Pennsylvania.

“There’s nothing wrong with a bartender serving somebody,” the attorney started, “but there comes a point in time when a line gets crossed.  It certainly doesn’t relieve the drunk person involved in the accident.  In our case, it doesn’t relieve the person who chose to view the text.  All we’re saying is there may be other people who bear responsibility.”

The case may be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, though at least one similar case has been heard in New Jersey.  In that instance, a couple was injured by a male driver who was in the middle of a text conversation with his girlfriend at the time the crash occurred.  In the New Jersey case, a Superior Court judge ruled that a text message’s sender could be found liable if they knew, or had cause to know, that the recipient was driving.

Using this case as a precedent, the Gallatin family’s attorney successfully persuaded Lawrence County Judge John Hodge to permit the lawsuit to continue.  Using the New Jersey case as a legal blueprint, the next step for the Gallatin family is to show whether Fend knew, or had reason to know, that Gargiulo was driving when he sent the text which preceded the accident.

“[I]t may very well turn out that Mr. Fend didn’t have any knowledge,” the attorney stated, “or didn’t have any reason to believe that the text he sent would have resulted in Mrs. Gargiulo opening it up.”

For now, the Gallatin family is bracing for potential controversy.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of negative comments,” said Gallatin-Baughman, “but all I have to say about that is you haven’t walked in my shoes.”

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Injured in a Crash with a Distracted Driver? Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in PA for Help

Distracted driving is a major traffic safety issue in Pennsylvania, and sadly, our state is home to countless families who share similar stories to the Gallatins.  The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported a staggering 14,805 preventable crashes were caused by distracted drivers in 2015 alone, 61 of them fatal.  That figure equates to roughly 41 daily accidents, and about five fatalities per month, that could have been avoided if drivers paid more attention to the street and less attention to their smartphones.

If you were injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, financial compensation may be available.  If the driver who hit you or your family member was texting, eating, drinking, playing with an app, applying makeup, switching between radio stations, or focusing on other distractions instead of paying attention to traffic, he or she could be liable for expenses arising from your injuries, including medical bills and lost income.

For a free legal consultation about your distracted driving accident, call the Wieand Law Firm at (888) 789-3161 today.  Philadelphia wrongful death attorney Brent Wieand handles personal injury claims in Pennsylvania and New Jersey related to all types of automotive accidents.

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes.  It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.  The Wieand Law Firm, LLC is based in Philadelphia, PA, and proud to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.*

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