Skippy Weinstein, a personal injury attorney at Stephen S. Weinstein, PC in Morristown, NJ, talked to us recently about a big case he’s handling, involving texting while driving. Weinstein, who appeared on the 2006 cover of New Jersey Super Lawyers & Rising Stars, is representing David and Linda Kubert, each of whom lost a leg after a 19-year-old motorist accused of texting at the wheel lost control of his pickup truck and hit their motorcycle. Weinstein came up with a novel idea: to sue not only the driver, Kyle Best, but also the woman who texted him. Weinstein believes she knew that Best was driving at the time.
“She was not physically in the vehicle, but she was electronically present,” Weinstein says of the woman, who was 17 at the time. “This was something I thought of at 3 o’clock in the morning. My clients’ desire was just to go to schools, give lectures, and get a law passed. They never wanted this publicity.”
But considering the timeliness of the issue, publicity was unavoidable. And now, a bill is working its way through the state legislature that would classify texting while driving as reckless – rather than just careless – driving, increasing the punishment available.
The court case is proving to be more of a challenge, with Morris County Superior Court Judge David Rand ruling in late May that the young woman could not be held responsible. Weinstein says he will appeal. He says the woman, when asked at deposition if she knew Best was driving when she texted him, replied, “I don’t know. Maybe. I may have known.”
Weinstein says he’s glad the case has put the issue of texting in the spotlight. “Texting is basically pulling your hands over the eyes of the driver,” he says. “The key message is that the public should recognize that texting while driving is highly dangerous … If you are texting someone while not in a vehicle, determine whether they are operating a motor vehicle.”
Weinstein expects to see an increase in cases involving texting while driving — including claims against those who send texts to drivers. “It’s an issue that may be before its time,” he says. “I think the appellate court, after getting enough of these cases, will have to do something.”