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Passengers May Be Liable for Encouraging Dangerous Driving

blue subaru WRX airborne on a street

A California appeals court revived a suit against a defendant who encouraged the driver to speed in a residential neighborhood, which killed a man loading his child into a car.

This reversed the trial court, which had ruled there was no evidence to suggest the the encouragement of the passenger, Hayley Meyers, affected the driver's ability to control the car.

On appeal, the plaintiff Miriam Navarrette argued the defendant aided, abetted and approved the driver Brandon Coleman, to drive faster and thus lose control of the vehicle.

The plaintiff also argued Meyers idea to speed was verbal encouragement and solicitation to commit a wrongful act that constituted a civil conspiracy.

Skyview Drive

The defendant and driver Brandon Coleman, plus two passengers, were traveling to a nearby drugstore, when Meyers suggested Coleman take Skyview Drive because it had dips in the road and it was fun to drive fast on them.

Skyview Drive is in a residential neighborhood with a 25 mph speed limit. Coleman continued to accelerate. When he hit a dip in the road, the car became airborne and Coleman lost control of the vehicle.

Coleman’s car hit a parked vehicle, where Navarette’s husband Esteban Soto was loading a child into the back seat. Car car severed Soto’s legs and killed him on impact. The speed of Coleman’s vehicle was estimated at 70 mph.

Liability for encouraging another

A person can be held jointly and severally liable for the actions of another if their encouragement or advice is a substantial factor in the wrongful act and resulting harm. The encourager also commits a wrongful act.

The court relied on the similarities to drag racing, distinguished on the fact Meyers was a passenger in the vehicle and strengthened the inference she encouraged and incited Coleman leading to the tragic collision.

Taking a broader review of Vehicle Code section 21701 which states:

“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 court believed Meyers' conduct was willful interference to affect the driver’s control of the vehicle, when the defendant encouraged Coleman to speed in order to increase the chances of the car leaving the road and losing traction. Meyer specifically intended the result because she had special knowledge increasing the cars speed would cause the car to “catch air.”

Navarrete et al. v. Hayley Meyer, Case No. D067454 California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate Dist. Division One

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