If you live in New York, you’ve surely read or heard about the sad story of Brittany Lahm. In July 2008, Lahm was driving a car full of teenagers on the Thruway, on their way back form the Jersey Shore, when Brandon Berman, 19, untied her bathing suit top. Lahm took her hands off the wheel to put her top back on, when her car veered into a guardrail and flipped, killing Berman and injuring the other passengers.
Last week in a Brooklyn Appeals Court, Lahm, 24, was found to be off the hook (no pun intended), putting a temporary close to this strange but tragic accident.
How could a person who causes the injuries – and even one death – of others get off scot-free? She took her hands off the wheel, surely she must be at least partially liable?
Although, in most circumstances, you would be right to assume her liability, in this case, the appellate judges found otherwise. They concluded “that Brittany did not anticipate that [Berman] would suddenly pull the strings on her bikini top, thereby causing the top to fall and her breasts to be exposed.”
In a 3-1 decision, the Court ruled that it was reasonable for the Rockland County jury that initially heard this case to conclude that Lahm’s upper body exposure counted as “a sudden and unforeseen emergency not of her own making.”
We mentioned early that this Appellate decision put a temporary close to this accident. The reason we said that it was merely a “temporary” close is because the case can still be appealed to the state’s highest court. For that reason, both Lahm and her attorney declined answering any questions.
The defendant in this lawsuit was one of the passengers, Jason Pelletier. Because of the car accident, Pelletier’s career as a football player at Yale University was ended early. As a result, Pelletier sued Lahm for damages. He testified at the trial court that she leaned forward for as many as 20 seconds to tie her bikini top, and was traveling at a speed of around 65 miles per hour. He argued that Lahm should have pulled over to fix her top instead of attempting to fix it while driving.
However, the jury disagreed, after she testified that her hands were only taken off the steering wheel for a split second.
In the appeal, Pelletier claimed that the judge should not have given the jury instructions about the emergency doctrine, which states that a motorist may not be negligent when faced with an unexpected circumstance.
Since the trial court ruled in favor of Lahm, and the Appeals Court concurred, they are stating that Lahm’s losing her bikini top constituted an “emergency” under the emergency doctrine.
The one dissenting judge in this case, Justice Sheri Roman, argued that Berman’s behavior was disruptive before he untied Lahm’s bikini. He opened an umbrella inside the car, stuck his feet in Lahm’s face, and because of these reasons, this was a foreseeable hazard, like a glaring sun. She continues, “that Brandon would ultimately commit an act which would cause Brittany to lose control of the vehicle, under the circumstances of this case, cannot be deemed sudden or unexpected.”
What do you think about this story? Do you think Lahm was negligent? We certainly understand if you are conflicted in your opinion of this case. While “boys will be boys”, and 19-year-olds are not known to be mature, we should expect a young girl who’s top falls off to attempt to fix it. Certainly, the Appeals Court in Brooklyn thinks so.
Feel free to comment on this blog post. For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).