Car Surfing Accidents: Who Is Liable When Participants Are Seriously or Fatally Injured?
Last June, a 28-year-old Santa Barbara, California man was arrested in connection with the death of 26-year-old Allison Meadows. The fatal accident allegedly occurred while Meadows was car surfing.
“In recent years, several deadly accidents involving car surfing have occurred in California and throughout the county,” explained car accident lawyer James Ballidis
Car surfing is the practice of riding on the exterior of a moving vehicle that is driven by another person. A 2008 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressed the practice and, using a search of newspaper accounts, determined that 58 deaths and 41 injuries resulted from car surfing between 1990 and 2008. However, because separate statistics are not kept on car surfing, the actual number of injuries and deaths related to this practice may be much higher.
Evidence suggests that car surfing contributed to the death of Alison Meadows. The California Highway Patrol has reported that they believe Meadows was either car surfing or thrown from the sunroof of the SUV involved in the fatal accident.
According to KSBY.com, two men brought Allison Meadows and another seriously injured passenger, Lindsay Keebler, to the hospital. The men reported that they had been passing through the area and spotted the women. However, Keebler informed the CHP that one of the two men, Tyrone Richardson, was driving the vehicle when Meadows and Keebler were hurt. Richardson was arrested and the district attorney was determining what charges to bring against him in connection with Meadows' death.
Liability and Responsibility for Car Surfing Deaths
Previous car surfing cases have led to criminal sanctions being imposed on the drivers' of the vehicles used in car surfing. According to USA Today, for example, a 19-year-old Florida driver was sentenced to a year of house arrest and five years of probation when he participated in car surfing and two of his friends were killed.
This past precedent suggests that Richardson likely will be held responsible for the dangerous and reckless acts that led to Meadows' death and Keebler's injury. While Meadows and Keebler bear some responsibility for making their own choice to car surf, ultimately, the driver of the vehicle has the control to determine whether he will or will not participate in and facilitate such a dangerous activity.
Choosing to provide a vehicle for car surfing reflects gross negligence and reckless disregard for human life that should lead to criminal sanctions for vehicular homicide or related charges. Reckless driving, also a criminal charge, is another appropriate charge for someone using his or her vehicle to facilitate car surfing. This is true even if the vehicle is traveling at low speeds.
Civil Liability for Car Surfing
In addition to criminal sanctions, drivers who participate in car surfing and allow their passengers to engage in this dangerous practice may find themselves sued by injured victims or by the family members of deceased victims. This is possible even in the event that the victim is considered partially responsible for the accident and resulting injuries. Because California is a pure comparative fault state, an individual can recover compensation from someone else even if the injured or decreased victim was largely the cause of his or her own outcome.
Richardson, therefore, could face criminal sanctions and civil lawsuits. The liability for this man could be significant, and the potential for both criminal and civil penalties should serve as a strong deterrent to drivers considering permitting others to car surf on their vehicles.
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