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In a recent case, Navarrete v. Meyer, the Court of Appeals held that a passenger’s act of encouraging a driver to exceed the speed limit and become airborne could support a cause of action for aiding and abetting an unlawful exhibition of speed.
In Navarrete, a driver and one of his passengers were driving to a nearby drugstore when the passenger encouraged the driver to take a shortcut down a residential street with a 25 mph speed limit. The passenger was familiar with the street, knew that it had dips, and that a car traveling at a high rate of speed could become airborne. The driver turned onto the street, accelerated, lost control of his vehicle, and collided with plaintiff’s husband, killing him.
On appeal, the issue before the 4th District Court of Appeals was whether the evidence raised a triable issue of fact for the jury as to whether to impose joint liability on the passenger for encouraging the driver. The Court found that a triable issue of fact existed and that a jury could reasonably conclude that the passenger and driver expressly agreed to engage in an unlawful exhibition of speed, and that this conduct was sufficiently intentional to support a cause of action for conspiracy.
The Court’s reversal means that a passenger who encourages the driver of a vehicle to engage in negligent or intentional conduct could also be held liable for any injuries caused by that conduct. However, the Court’s opinion limits the rule to situations where the encouraging party has special knowledge that the encouraged conduct will likely cause injury. Nevertheless, passengers should be aware of the possible legal implications of backseat driving.read more