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Navarrete v. Meyer D067454 2015 DJDAR 7012 4th District

Passenger may be liable for encouraging driver to race through dips, causing car to go airborne and fatally strike father.

Hayley Meyer, a passenger in a vehicle driven by her friend Brandon Coleman, instructed Coleman to race at high speed on Skyview Dr. so they could “gain air” when it hit the dips. Meyer was familiar with the residential street, having driven through it several times. Coleman did so and, unfortunately, he lost control and struck a parked car at approximately 70 miles per hour, instantly killing Esteban Soto, who was attempting to put one of his children in a car seat. Soto’s survivors (together, Navarrete) sued Meyer, alleging violation of Vehicle Code Section 21701 and civil conspiracy. Meyer moved for summary judgment. Although she admitted it was her idea to drive fast on Skyview Dr., she argued that there was no evidence that she interfered with Coleman’s control of the vehicle. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in her favor.

Reversed. A person who encourages or assists a tortfeasor may be liable for the consequences of the tortfeasor’s acts if the encouragement or assistance is a substantial factor in causing the resulting tort. Section 21701 provides in part that “No person shall willfully interfere with the driver of a vehicle or with the mechanism thereof in such a manner as to affect the driver’s control of the vehicle.” Here, although Meyer did not physically interfere with Coleman’s operation of the vehicle, direct physical interference was not strictly required to violate the statute. Moreover, Meyer did not merely instruct Coleman to go faster. Rather, with her familiarity with Skyview Dr. and its unique attributes, she encouraged him to go race through the street to “gain air.” Thus, contrary to the trial court’s finding, the evidence raised a triable issue for a jury as to Meyer’s liability.

So, then next time you’re an impatient passenger, think twice before telling the driver to punch it so as to make a yellow light.