Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Passenger Who Told Driver to Speed Up May Be Liable For Fatal Crash, Court of Appeal Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An automobile passenger who encourages the driver to operate the vehicle at an excessive speed may be liable for a resulting collision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. One reversed a Riverside Superior Court judge’s order granting summary judgment to Hayley Meyer, who admitted encouraging her friend Brandon Coleman to increase his speed while driving on a residential street in Riverside. Judge Matthew Perrantoni reasoned that, in the absence of evidence that Meyer’s statements affected Coleman’s control of the vehicle, there were no triable issues of fact.
Justice Terry O’Rourke, writing for the Court of Appeal, disagreed and said Meyer is potentially liable, either under an acting-in-concert or conspiracy theory or for unreasonably interfering with the safe operation of Coleman’s vehicle.
Miriam Navarette sued Coleman and Meyer—who was added as a Doe defendant—along with Riverside County after Navarette’s husband was struck and killed on Skyview Drive in 2009, while attempting to put one of the couple’s children in a car seat in the family’s parked vehicle. Investigation revealed that Coleman lost control of his vehicle, which veered sharply to the right and became airborne after hitting one of a number of dips in the road.
A data recorder from Coleman’s vehicle put its speed at 81 miles per hour five seconds before impact and 71 miles per hour one second before impact. The speed limit was 25 miles per hour.
Further investigation revealed that Meyer was very familiar with Skyview Drive, and was well aware of the dips, and of the possibility that a car would become airborne after hitting one.
In concluding that there is enough evidence to have a jury decide whether Meyer is liable, O’Rourke cited Restatement Second of Torts §876, which lays out the principle of liability for acting in concert. The section says that one who “does a tortious act in concert with” another, or who “gives substantial assistance or encouragement to the other” to engage in conduct which one knows to be a breach of duty, or commits a breach of duty by giving “substantial assistance to the other in accomplishing a tortious result” is liable for resulting harm.
The principle has been applied in drag racing cases, among others, O’Rourke noted, saying Meyer’s conduct here was similar to that of a person who encourages another to participate in an illegal street race.
“Meyer was familiar with Skyview Drive and its unique characteristics, and a reasonable fact finder could readily infer she knew other vehicles could be parked or other people would be present on such a residential street,” the justice said. Encouraging a driver to speed, while a passenger in the car, is not materially different from encouraging a driver to race, O’Rourke said.
The justice also concluded that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to infer that Coleman and Meyer had an express or tacit agreement that Coleman would engage in an “unlawful exhibition of speed,” and that Coleman acted pursuant to that agreement, thus supporting an action for conspiracy.
Meyer might also be held liable for negligence per se, based on violation of Vehicle Code §21701, unreasonable interference with the safe operation of a vehicle, the justice said. There need not be a showing that she yelled at Coleman, or physically interfered with his operation of the vehicle, it would be sufficient for the plaintiff to prove that he took “some intentional action that in some way” affected the driver’s control.
Her knowledge of the road conditions, and encouragement that Coleman drive the car in a manner that she knew could cause it to leave the roadway, might suffice, the justice said.
The case is Navarette v. Meyer, 15 S.O.S. 3159.
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