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Car Passengers Can Be Found Liable for Accidents, Despite Not Driving The Car!

We all have that crazy friend who persuades us to do things we otherwise would not do. If that crazy friend is a passenger in your car and they encourage you to “drive fast,” that crazy friend could now be on the hook for their role in an accident caused by their encouragement of risky driving behaviors.

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 that eventually led to an accident and death.

On November 26, 2009, Meyer was the front passenger in a car driven by her friend, Coleman. While driving, Meyer told Coleman to take a shortcut on a residential street that had a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. Meyer had been on Skyview Drive several times before, and she knew it had dips that could cause a speeding car to become airborne. While Coleman started taking the shortcut, Meyer told him about the dips, that it was fun to drive fast on them, and that he should “drive fast.” Meyer then told Coleman to “go faster.” He accelerated and caught air from the dips and lost control of the car. The car swerved to the right and collided into a parked vehicle while Soto was attempting to put one of his children in a car seat. Soto’s legs were immediately severed and he was killed on impact. Meyer estimated the car’s speed at about 70 miles per hour and then admitted it was her idea to drive fast.

Initially, the trial court dismissed the case against the passenger (Meyer) after finding that she was not negligent because she was not the driver. On appeal, the Court reversed this finding, holding that the jury gets to decide whether the passenger had conspired with the driver to commit negligent and wrongful acts as well as to determine if her encouragement constituted “interference” under Vehicle Code Section 21701.

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