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 foreseeable injuries suffered by passersby when the driver lost control of his car. Navarette v. Meyer, Fourth Distr. Ct. App. D067454 .
Hayley Meyer was a passenger in a car driven by Brandon Coleman. Meyer suggested Coleman take a particular residential street posted for a 25 mph speed limit as a shortcut. Meyer had driven that way many times, and knew dips in the roadway would cause a speeding car to become airborne. Meyer told Coleman about how the dips could send a car airborne, and urged Coleman to attempt the feat. Shortly after Coleman turned onto the street, Meyer urged him to “go faster.” Coleman accelerated, and his car became airborne. Coleman lost control. His car hit a parked vehicle. Esteban Soto, standing next to the parked car, was crushed between the two vehicles and killed.
Soto’s wife Miriam Navarrete and three children filed a wrongful death action against both Coleman and Meyer. As to Meyer, the family alleged civil conspiracy and violation of Vehicle Code §21701, which provides that 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 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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