Travis Lee, 27, was killed in a Ventura motorcycle accident after he lost control and crashed into a car at the intersection of Victoria Avenue and Avocet Drive. According to a news report in the Ventura County Star, the fatal motorcycle accident occurred June 21, 2009. Eyewitnesses told Ventura police that Lee was southbound on Victoria Avenue, racing with a red Corvette between intersections. At Avocet Drive, Lee was facing a red light and tried to stop. But he lost control of the motorcycle and slid to the side of a sport utility vehicle headed westbound through the intersection. Lee was pronounced dead at an area hospital. The driver of the Corvette was cited and released for being involved in a speed contest, which is a misdemeanor.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Travis Lee for their tragic and heartbreaking loss. I offer my deepest condolences to them. I’m also relieved that no one else was injured in this unfortunate incident, which occurred because two people were behaving irresponsibly and with callous disregard for public safety.
In California, racing on a public street or a highway is illegal. California Vehicle Code section 23109 (a) states: “A person shall not engage in a motor vehicle speed contest on a highway. As used in this section, a motor vehicle speed contest includes a motor vehicle race against another vehicle, a clock, or other timing device. For purposes of this section, an event in which the time to cover a prescribed route of more than 20 miles is measured, but where the vehicle does not exceed the speed limits, is not a speed contest.”
In this particular case, two people — Travis Lee and the driver of the red Corvette — might have been involved in the speed contest. It’s not clear who challenged whom. Usually in the case of a speed contest, the participants do not owe a duty of due care to the other participants, so one driver might not be liable for the injuries or death of another participant. However, the driver of the Corvette might be held liable for Lee’s fatal injuries if he or she drove in such a way that it increased the risk of harm to Lee. Examples of such behavior include an unsafe or threatening movement into, toward or across Lee’s line of travel. From the information about such conduct in this case we have been provided so far, it does not appear that the driver of the Corvette was involved in such conduct. He or she saw the red light and stopped in time. Lee apparently could not stop, lost control of his motorcycle and crashed. An investigation by an attorney acting on Lee’s family’s behalf might uncover more facts about what are the totality of conduct which caused this fatal motorcycle crash.
If this incident results in a wrongful death claim by Lee’s family against the driver of the Corvette, the attorney representing that driver may argue that there was “comparative fault” here. Comparative fault applies to conduct by a personal injury victim which is some portion of the total “legal cause” of the harm he suffered. In this case, it would appear that Lee may have willingly participated in the speed contest. In such cases, defense attorneys might also try to demonstrate “assumption of risk” on the part of the victim. In other words, the defense might try to establish that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks inherent in the dangerous activity in which he was participating at the time of the injury. However, a skilled personal injury lawyer may be able to analyze all the facts of this case and determine whether there were any other factors that may have caused or contributed to Lee’s fatal injuries. Examples of such factors could be a dangerous condition on the roadway or a mechanical or product defect that may have led to Lee losing control of his motorcycle.
That said, the lesson we can all take from this incident is one of personal responsibility. Street racing is not only against the law, but it also shows irresponsibility and an utter disregard for public safety. The State of California has decided to get serious and impose automatic six-month prison sentences and a $1,000 fine for convicted street racers. Violators could also spend several years in prison for vehicular manslaughter if they cause a serious injury or death during a speed contest. According to a study conducted by Liberty Mutual/SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), between 2001 and 2006, 804 people were killed in street-racing incidents. Regrettably, a majority of these races end in catastrophic car accidents, which often seriously injure and kill participants and bystanders. In the face of those terrible consequences, it is doubly horrible that a participant in a speed contest might not be covered by his automobile liability insurance for a personal injury or wrongful death claim made by another participant.