Car Passenger Liable for Shouting “Go Faster”

Overview:  Navarete v Meyer is a fascinating new Court of Appeal case where liability was found against a shot gun seat passenger for shouting ‘go faster’ to the driver when she knew he was approaching dips on a residential street, so he foolishly punched it and killed someone.  The case in itself almost makes sense but opens the door to suits whenever someone directs the driver, like when a spouse calls her husband insisting he get home asap or when a passenger trying to help says to the driver;  ‘it is clear, you can make it”.

Navarrete v. Meyer is an interesting new case where a front-seat passenger shouted to the driver, “Go faster” knowing the driver was about to hit dips in the road. The car went airborne, then hit a parked car resulting in not only the driver being found liable but also the passenger. Seems like a slippery slope to me. Here goes.

“Go Faster”

Hayley Meyer was the “shotgun” seat passenger in a car driven by her friend Brandon Coleman in the Los Angeles area. Meyer told Coleman to turn onto Skyview Drive as a shortcut, a road she had driven many times. Skyview is a residential street with a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. It has dips that cause a car traveling at a high rate of speed to go airborne.

As Coleman turned onto Skyview, Meyer yelled, “Go faster.” Coleman foolishly drove faster hitting 81 miles-per-hour. That was seconds before he lost control, veered sharply to the right and ran into Navarret’s vehicle, killing her husband who was putting one of their children in a car seat.

Passenger Sued

Navarret sued not only Coleman the driver but also Meyer the passenger. Clearly Coleman was responsible but the attorneys sued Meyer for acting “under concert,” essentially in conspiracy with Coleman, and for aiding and abetting Coleman in an exhibition of speed. Meyer was also sued for interfering with the safe operation of a vehicle in violation of the Vehicle Code and also for civil conspiracy. Whatever it takes to impose liability on the passenger, who must have had insurance, an aggressive, novel approach.

The trial court ruled for Meyer concluding her act of telling Coleman to drive faster did not necessarily affect his control over the vehicle. Navarrete appealed.

Drag Racing

The Court of Appeal compared these facts to drag racing cases where one of the drag racers can be found legally responsible for a death caused by the other driver for “inciting and encouraging one another to drive in a fast and reckless rate of speed.”

The Court of Appeal liked that analogy, “Indeed, the fact Meyer was a passenger in Coleman’s vehicle rather than driving a separate car strengthens the inference that she encouraged and incited him, and that they jointly engaged in a series of acts that led directly to the collision with Navarrete’s vehicle.” A crash was foreseeable.

Slingshot Case

The Court made yet another analogy comparing the facts to another case where friends were found liable for encouraging their buddy to shoot a marble with a slingshot at another minor, finding in the end they could be liable for “actively encouraging, soliciting, or conspiring to injure the plaintiff.”

 “Interfering with the Driver”

Navarrete also sued Meyer for violation of Vehicle Code Section 21701, which in part reads: “No person shall willfully interfere with the driver of a vehicle or with a mechanism thereof in such manner as to affect the driver’s control of a vehicle.”

The Court ruled Meyer had violated that code, albeit indirectly, and found Meyer liable even though she did not intend to affect Coleman’s driving per se, because she deliberately took action by encouraging him to speed, thus willfully interfering with his driving.

Slippery Slope

While I suppose I can understand this case, the ruling is a slippery slope. Could someone on the phone telling a driver to “hurry up” or “drive faster” or “get home now” be found liable if the driver subsequently crashes. What if a passenger trying to be helpful says to the driver at an intersection, “you can make it.”

To be clear, the Court did not enter a judgment against Meyer, but the case against her for encouraging Coleman to drive faster as he hit the dips was allowed to go to a jury to decide whether she is liable.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.  

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