Is a Car Passenger Responsible for An Accident If It Was Foreseeable Due to Negligent Conduct by Him ?
In State v. Morris, 740 So. 2d 554 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998), the defendant was driving a third party's vehicle, but made his fifteen-year-old passenger drive the vehicle after he became too drunk to drive.
The fifteen year-old-passenger fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the center lane, and struck and killed an innocent third party.
The defendant passenger was prosecuted for manslaughter by culpable negligence.
The trial court dismissed the information on the basis that the facts failed to establish a prima facie case. However, the appellate court reversed, noting:
The trial court concluded that the cause of the instant fatality was "that the driver of the car fell asleep," "not so much that the [unlicensed] person was driving, but that he fell asleep."
Morris however, like M.C.J., although he could not have foreseen the specific circumstance causing death--that C.S. would fall asleep at the wheel--nevertheless reasonably should have foreseen that the same general type of harm--a deadly auto accident--might unfold from ordering a reluctant, unlicensed juvenile behind the wheel of a car, in the wee hours of the morning, on a dark, two-lane highway, with a drunk passenger unable to supervise in any way.
The harm that occurred--a deadly auto accident--"was foreseeable and within the scope of the danger created by [Morris's] negligent conduct." Id. [M.C.J. v. State, 444 So. 2d 1001] at 1005.
The trial court thus erred as a matter of law in concluding that there is no evidence that Morris set in motion a chain of events resulting in the death of James Acree. M.C.J. Id.