In a bizarre twist of events and a most unfortunate accident, a Lyft driver was thrown into the spotlight when the parents of a 13-year-old girl, sued him for driving her, and that ride ultimately led to the girl's death.
The case is being decided in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in front of Judge Donald W. Hafele. The prosecution claims that the girl was in her pajamas and was only 13 years old, the driver should not have picked her up. Lyft counters that the driver was not involved in the accident that happened hours later with the girl's boyfriend. The Lyft drivers lawyer claims that his driver did not speak English and was not aware of Lyft's age restriction policy.
Judge Hafele is having a problem connecting the accident to the Lyft driver. He stated in court "How far does this go? If this happened two days later, would there be any difference?"
The victim's parents legal counsel Scott Fischer replied to the Judge that if it were a few days later, they would not be in court.
The issue whether the driver is guilty of driving the girl to her death is the main reason why the prosecution called for Kara Rockenbach, one of Florida's top appeals lawyers and she insists that the Judge should allow a jury to decide the case. She claims that the driver should have used judgment to see that a 13-year-old girl dressed in her pajamas asking for a ride at 1.30am is not a ride you should accept and must be responsible for any outcome that arose from that ride.
The Judge prefers to look at the facts from a legal and logical point of view and argues that a party cannot be responsible for the actions of another if there is no direct link proving that the party was involved in the accident.
Let's take a look at the facts of the case:
July 8, two young teens decide to meet up in secret at the boy's home. The boy lives 8 miles from the girl, so they must acquire some form of transport. The girl's grandmother is sleeping while her mother, a nurse, is also fast asleep after finishing a long overnight shift. They never heard the girl leave the house. The two teens called Lyft and requested a ride, Leonardo Zambrano Dey, the Lyft driver that answered the call picked up 13-year-old Karenine from her home at 1:10am and dropped her off at her destination 15 minutes later, alive and well as Jimmy's home. After four and a half hours, the two teens decided that Karenina should get back home, so the young adult, Jimmy who just turned 18 and held a class E-learner driving license only, decide to drive a 2002 Ford F-150 back to the girl's home. The time was 5:30am, the streets were wet, both passengers sat in the front, and the driver lost control of the car and crashed into some trees. The river, Jimmy sustained minor injuries while the passenger Karenine died in the crash.
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The local Sheriff's office stated that both passengers did not wear seat belts and were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They did not intend to charge the man with criminal charges.
Lyft's attorney Andrew Kemp-Gerstel said in court that the accident is tragic but has no connection to their driver. The actions that a person takes after leaving a Lyft car is their own and has no connection to the driver. Add to that the fact the young man was 18 years old, and also ask what does an 18-year-old boy have to do with a 13-year-old girl?
Dey's lawyer Hilton Napoleon II stated that Karenine had other ways of getting home and the decisions the passenger makes after leaving a car are not the driver's concern.
The prosecution stated that they wanted to focus on what happened and claim that a Jury must decide the case. The Judge decided that the Lyft driver was not responsible for the accident, and had left the passenger very much alive when he dropped her off. He stated "There's nothing wrong with the delivery per se other than the allegation that this Lyft driver should have ID'd her. The delivery of the child was successful. It's what transpired hours later."
Our take, the Judge made the right decision, the minute you open a possibility that a rideshare driver is responsible for the actions of the passengers after they leave the vehicle, would be used to sue every single bus, train, car and tram driver, pilot and ship's captain in the US for actions of theft, violence, rape, terrorism and whatever you can think of against an unsuspecting driver that only carries a person from point a to point b.