Drag Racing Passenger's Case Crashed by Court (NY)As a matter of public policy, in New York, a party that engages in conduct that constitutes a serious violation of the law is precluded from recovery when their claimed damages are the direct result of that violation. That principle was at the forefront of Hathaway v. Eastman, where plaintiff was injured as a passenger in a vehicle participating in a drag race. Plaintiff sued the three drivers and the passengers of the vehicles involved in the race that night. The defendants were granted summary judgment dismissing the case because the plaintiff’s own testimony established that he knowingly and willingly participated in the illegal act of aiding or abetting the drag race, precluding him from recovery for injuries that he sustained in the resulting accident. The plaintiff appealed the decision, and the Appellate Division, Third Department pointed out that the truck that plaintiff was a passenger in was one of three vehicles that were drag racing, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour on a two-lane rural road with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour. Plaintiff admitted encouraging the race to take place, entering the truck knowing the driver had been drinking beer and was about to race another car, was fully familiar with the rural road, and essentially pressured defendant Eastman during the race to go faster so as not to lose. Plaintiff claimed that he was merely a passenger and therefore should not be precluded from recovery. He further argued that summary judgment was improper as the defendants had contested that they were racing. The appellate court rejected both of these arguments, relying upon plaintiff’s own admissions which established that he willingly participated and contributed to the race. The Court found that racing side by side at over 100 miles per hour in the dark on a two-lane rural road under the circumstances of this case constitutes the type of grossly reckless conduct that created a grave risk to the public and therefore upheld the award of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Thanks to Jorgelina Foglietta for her contribution to this post. Please write to Mike Bono for more information.