Navarrette v. Meyer – Interfering With Driver May Be Liability Grounds

In many personal injury cases, there is the potential for action against numerous defendants. speedometer1.jpg

Car accident cases are no different, and it’s important for an experienced injury lawyer to carefully examine the facts and evidence in your case to identify all potential defendants.

In the case of Navarrette v. Meyer, plaintiffs sued not only the driver of the vehicle, but also the passenger of the vehicle, who had encouraged the driver to speed down a dark, hilly road with the intention of “getting air.”

Instead, what happened was the driver lost control of the vehicle at 70 miles-per-hour and slammed into a father loading his young child into a car seat. The father was killed instantly.

His widow sued for wrongful death on behalf of herself and their minor children for compensation against the driver, his insurance company and also the passenger.

In California, where this case occurred, there is a statute specifically barring willful interference with a driver of a vehicle or with a mechanism thereof in such a manner that it would affect the driver’s control of the vehicle. Most often, this would be applied to a case where a passenger might suddenly and dangerously grab the wheel or place their hands over the eyes of the driver.

However, in this case, it involves instruction and/or encouragement to commit a traffic violation – i.e., speeding. Here, driver was traveling 70 mph on a 25 mph residential road.

According to records from the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District, defendant passenger was riding in the front seat of a vehicle driven by her friend. Another passenger was in the back seat, and they were on their way to a nearby drug store.

Defendant passenger, familiar with the area and this particular road, instructed driver to turn down that street. She said it had numerous dips and if driven at a high rate of speed, the car would become airborne. She told it would be “fun” to do this. She encouraged him to “go faster.”

Driver looked to backseat passenger and asked if he should. Back seat passenger told him no, as he could potentially damage the car.

Driver disregarded this sage advice and instead pressed the gas pedal. When he lost control, he struck decedent, whose legs were severed and he died upon impact.

Defendant passenger did admit it was her idea to drive fast on that residential street.

In the lawsuit against her, plaintiff argued violation of the state statute barring interference with a driver, asserting defendant passenger willfully interfered with driver and/or the mechanism of the vehicle such as to affect control of the car. Plaintiff also alleged civil conspiracy, saying both driver and passenger formed an oral or implied agreement to commit a wrongful act – i.e., speeding.

Initially, trial court dismissed this claim, finding that simply encouraging a driver to increase speed was insufficient to support liability for either cause of action.

However, the appeals court reversed. The court indicated that when a passenger encourages a driver to speed, knowing that it could cause the vehicle to become airborne, it is a trier of fact (i.e., a matter for a jury) to decide whether that constitutes interference of a vehicle within the meaning of the law.

The case has been remanded for trial.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Navarrette v. Meyer, June 22, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One

More Blog Entries:
George v. Cooper – Liability Admission Only Partial Victory, July 2, 2015, South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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