Court's Text Ruling: Pastors Beware

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Aug 29, 2013 in Tough Laws

A New Jersey court ruled that if you send a text message to someone who is driving, and that person crashes, you can be held liable for the accident equally with the person driving the vehicle.  This has a great impact on church-owned vehicles and other church transportation activities because it can land the texter in court and possibly jail.  Today, there are many churches in court because of texting and driving issues involving their church.  The court's ruling opens the door to the pastor getting dragged into court because he/she sent a text message to the volunteer driver of the church van.

Dangers of texting and driving

On September 21st, 2009 a young man by the name of Kyle crossed the double center of the roadway and with the front driver's side of his pickup truck he struck a married couple that was on their motorcycle - injuring both of their left legs severely.  Kyle called 911 and did his best to stabilize the couple, but after receiving medical treatment both of them still lost their left legs (Kubert vs. Best and Colonna).  Needless to say, the couple filed a lawsuit against the driver and proved the driver was texting at the same time that he became distracted and crossed the centerline.  But they did not stop there.  They also went after the person with whom he was texting.  The court stated that as a matter of common civil law, the "person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, that the recipient will view the text while driving."  Many churches send volunteer drivers out to pick up children, elderly, or disabled people to take them to church.  In that process, the pastor or other church staff/volunteers text them to inquire of their whereabouts or to inform them to pickup so-and so.  This court case has special implications, because the sender knows that the volunteer is driving. 

Many states classify as assault by auto or vessel when one is driving and texting and he/she causes an accident that seriously injures another person.  This is a crime that can lead to years in state prison.  However, the court in New Jersey went further and implied the inference that one could be electronically present in the car, causing a distraction if "the sender knows that the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately." By that argument the "sender has taken a foreseeable risk in sending a text at that time."

What churches can do

While texting is a very powerful and useful tool, used outside of its proper context it can like anything else, cause some lasting legal trouble.  Churches should have a cell phone use policy, like the one included in our Vision Software tool, that covers texting from both the sender and receiver's point of view.  Developing a culture of safety while driving on church business will go a long way to reduce the possibility of an accident and liability on the church.  Nothing goes farther than a message from the head of the church.  You develop a culture of safety by making it known that you value it enough to require every staff, volunteer, or other personnel to get adequate training on the dangers of texting while driving.  One way to do it is by creating a document or flyer that is given to everyone who will drive a vehicle on church business.  Another way to do this is to make all drivers on church business read and understand the church cell phone use policy.

The pitfalls of the unknown

In the world of church planting and management there are many pitfalls that exist.  Avoiding them is not as simple as it seems.  Last year, over 85 changes occurred in the laws that govern churches and ministries.  It is no wonder why many pastors feel that we live in a hostile legislative culture, and like they might break the law even without trying.  The best way to stay on top is to dedicate yourself and those around you that feel called to the ministry of helps in administration to a continued path of learning.  It can begin with one of our StartRIGHT programs as well as one of our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences, and it can continue through the weekly blogs and software we offer.  It is our passion to help your vision go from a dream to a reality. 

 

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera


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