Riverside, California, UNITED STATES June 23, 2015:
A California Court of Appeals panel has held that a passenger who urged a driver to drive so fast the vehicle became airborne could potentially be held liable for injuries suffered by a pedestrian when the driver lost control of his car. Navarette v. Meyer, Fourth Distr. Ct. App. D067454.
Hayley Meyer was a passenger riding in a car driven by Brandon Coleman. Meyer suggested Coleman take a shortcut over a residential street posted for a 25 mph speed limit. Meyer knew dips in that roadway could make a speeding car airborne. Meyer told Coleman about the dips, and urged Coleman to attempt to catch air. Shortly after Coleman turned onto the street, Meyer urged Coleman to “go faster.” Coleman accelerated, his car took off, and Coleman lost control. His car hit a parked vehicle. Pedestrian Esteban Soto, standing next to the parked car, was crushed between the two vehicles and killed.
Soto’s wife Miriam and three children sued for wrongful death, naming both Coleman and Meyer as defendants. As to Meyer, the family alleged civil conspiracy and violation of Vehicle Code §21701, which provides no person “shall willfully interfere with the driver of a vehicle or with the mechanism thereof in such manner as to affect the driver’s
control of the vehicle.”
The trial court granted summary judgment for Meyer, finding no evidence to suggest Meyer’s urging Coleman to drive faster either affected Coleman’s control over the vehicle, or established a conspiracy.
The appellate panel reversed, holding Meyer in the case, noting that Soto’s family’s complaint raised issues of fact requiring a jury’s determination
In its opinion, the appellate panel noted the evidence at trial could support a jury finding Coleman accelerated the vehicle at Meyer’s request. For purposes of joint liability, a jury would need to decide whether Meyer urged Coleman with enough force to constitute an unlawful exhibition of speed, as prohibited by Vehicle Code §23109. The court held that the sort of injury that resulted from Coleman’s unlawful conduct, i.e., Coleman’s car losing control, striking another vehicle and harming a pedestrian, was foreseeable, and the very sort of harm that §23109 was designed to prevent.
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