The ruling stems from a case involving a teenage girl who texted her boyfriend moments before the latter struck a motorcycle, seriously injuring its two riders.
Linda and David Kubert had previously settled their case against driver Kyle Best, but a Morris County Superior Court determined that texter Shannon Colonna did not share in the responsibility for his actions.
The Kuberts took their case to the Superior Court's appellate division, which yesterday upheld the earlier decision, saying it believed Colonna didn't know Best was driving at the time of the crash.
However, the three-judge panel did find that an individual knowingly texting a driver could be held responsible in the event of an accident.
"We hold that the sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted," stated Judge Victor Ashrafi in his opinion.
The court compared the "electronic presence" of the texter to a person holding a piece of paper in front of the driver, thereby distracting him.
"When the sender knows that the text will reach the driver while operating a vehicle, the sender has a relationship to the public who use the roadways similar to that of a passenger physically present in the vehicle," said Ashrafi. "As we have stated, a passenger must avoid distracting the driver. The remote sender of a text who knows the recipient is then driving must do the same."