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Passenger may be liable for death after telling driver to “go faster!”

Be careful when encouraging your driver to take risks. A recent California case held that a passenger could potentially be found liable by a jury for her role in encouraging a driver to “go faster” along a road which ultimately led to a crash and a death.

On November 26, 2009, Meyer was the front passenger in a vehicle driven by her friend Brandon Coleman. While driving to a nearby drugstore, Meyer told Coleman to turn onto Skyview Drive as a shortcut. Skyview Drive is a residential street with a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. Meyer had been on Skyview Drive many times before that day, and she knew it had dips that would cause a car traveling at a high rate of speed to become airborne. While Coleman was making the turn onto Skyview Drive, Meyer told him about the dips, that it was fun to drive fast on them, and that he should do it. Shortly after Coleman turned onto the street, Meyer told Coleman to “go faster.” He accelerated to such a degree that he caught air from the dips and lost control of the car, which veered sharply to the right and collided into Navarrete’s parked vehicle while Navarrete’s husband, Esteban Soto, was attempting to put one of their children in a car seat. Soto’s legs were severed and he was killed by the impact. A data recorder from Coleman’s car indicated its speed was 81 miles per hour five seconds before the impact, and 71 miles per hour one second before the impact. Meyer estimated the car’s speed at about 70 miles per hour. Meyer admitted it was her idea to drive fast on Skyview Drive.

Initially, the trial court granted summary judgement for Meyer, dismissing the case against her after finding that she was not negligent as she was not the driver and she did not interfere with the driver pursuant to Vehicle Code sec 21701.

On appeal, the Court reversed this finding, saying that it was for the jury to decide whether she had conspired with the driver to commit these negligent and wrongful acts as well as to determine if her encouragement constituted “interference” under Vehicle Code Section 21701.

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