An appeals court has ruled that a young woman is not responsible for a fatal accident on the NY State Thruway, sparked by a passenger who untied her bikini top.
On July 12, 2008, Brittany Lahm, then 19, was driving back from the Jersey Shore with friends. Just south of Suffern, she crashed her car after passenger Brandon Berman untied her bikini top. She had taken her hands off the wheel to cover herself up, and ended up killing Berman—who was celebrating his birthday that day—and injuring others.
Fellow passenger Jason Pelletier sued Lahm for his injuries. His lawsuit (PDF) stated, "The vehicle then veered out of the lanes and struck the guardrail, flipped multiple times in the air, crossed over into the southbound lanes, and came to rest on it's roof in the middle of the southbound lanes."
Pelletier's lawsuit argued, "Lahm's negligent conduct in taking her hands off the wheel and losing control of her vehicle caused the accident. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Defendant Brittany Lahm should have slowed her vehicle down, kept both hands on the wheel, and pulled off of the highway, before attempting to re-tie her bathing suit, and the mere fact that she may have been embarrassed by the exposure of her breasts to the passengers in the car does not excuse her failure to do so." Pelletier says his football career at Yale was cut short.
However, two courts found his argument faulty. According to the Daily News, "Even though Berman had acted disruptive throughout the fateful ride from the Jersey Shore, the Appellate Division concluded '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.' Therefore, the appellate judges held in a 3-1 decision that it was reasonable for the Rockland County jury that initially heard the case to conclude that Lahm’s bikini top problem constituted 'a sudden and unforeseen emergency not of her own making.'"
You can read the decision here (PDF). One appellate judge pointed out that Berman had been joking around during the whole ride, "spitting chewing tobacco out the window, opening an umbrella inside the vehicle, leaning halfway out of the window, and using the umbrella to clean the tobacco off the exterior of the vehicle"—as well as "stick[ing] his feet over the center console into Brittany’s face"—over a 15-20 minute period. Justice Sherri Roman suggested Lahm could have done something differently other than continue to drive at 65 mph.