Topless Prank Victim Not to Blame for Crash
(CN) - A 19-year-old woman driving back from the Jersey Shore was not at fault for a fatal car accident caused when a male passenger pulled the strings on her bikini top and exposed her breasts, a New York appeals court ruled.
Brittany Lahm was driving back to New York from the New Jersey Shore with her friends. All four people in the car were 19 years old.
Brandon Berman, who was sitting behind Lahm, pulled on the strings of her bikini top, causing it to fall down. Lahm took her hands off the wheel to cover herself.
The car started to drift to the right, but Lahm tried to correct it. She lost control of the car, and it vaulted over the guardrail and landed upside down on the other side of the New York State Thruway. Berman died from his injuries.
Jason Pelletier, another passenger in the car, sued Lahm for his injuries. He also named the owner of the car, Brittany's father Phillip Lahm, as a defendant. A jury found that Brittany was not negligent in operating the vehicle.
Pelletier appealed, arguing that the jury should not have been instructed on the emergency doctrine, which protects the driver from liability when she is acting in a "reasonable and prudent" way in dealing with an unforeseen circumstance.
The justices of the Brooklyn-based Second Department New York Appellate Division affirmed the decision.
"Brittany's general awareness that Brandon Berman, a passenger in her vehicle, had engaged in certain distracting conduct while in the car would not preclude a jury from deciding that Brittany did not anticipate that he would suddenly pull the strings on her bikini top, thereby causing the top to fall and her breasts to be exposed," the justices wrote.
"A fair interpretation of the evidence supported the jury's determination that the defendant Brittany Lahm was not negligent in the operation of her vehicle."
However, Justice Sheri S. Roman dissented from her colleagues, citing Berman's behavior before he untied the bikini, which included "spitting chewing tobacco out the window, opening an umbrella inside the vehicle, leaning halfway out the window and using the umbrella to clean the tobacco off the exterior of the vehicle."
Roman noted that Berman also stuck his feet over the center console into Brittany's face.
"Despite Brandon's conduct, Brittany never attempted to pull the vehicle over or slow the vehicle down and, instead, continued to travel on the Thruway at a speed of 65 mph," Roman wrote.