Loco Lawsuits: Who taught you to drive a getaway car?

The best-laid plans — well, you should know the rest.

On June 17, 2007, Michael Espinosa, Angel Vertiz, and Kenneth Kirkwood, Jr. decided it would be a good idea to burgle a house in Riverside, Calif. They left the house in a car driven by Kirkwood. Police spotted them and, as happens in California, a car chase followed. It chase ended less than a mile from the site of the burglary when Kirkwood’s car collided with three other vehicles, rear-ending one stopped at an intersection.

Kirkwood tried to escape on foot but all three men were arrested. Kirkwood and Vertiz were convicted of burglary, while Espinoza was convicted of attempted burglary. So much for the escapade, right? No. Eleven months after the burglary, Espinosa and Vertif sued Kirkwood for allegedly serious injuries they claimed were due to Kirkwood’s negligent driving.

The pair brought the suit despite a 1996 law prohibiting someone convicted of a felony from recovering damages for injuries caused by another person’s negligence if the injuries were “caused by the … commission of any felony, or immediate flight therefrom.” Unsurprisingly, the trial court said the statute required dismissing the lawsuit.

Espinosa and Vertif (or their lawyers) were undeterred. They appealed, somehow contending there was an issue whether their participation in the burglary or the flight from it caused their injuries.  Their reasoning isn’t clear. Apparently, they thought the burglary itself didn’t cause their injuries, that they weren’t injured immediately upon leaving the house, or perhaps that the law didn’t apply because they weren’t driving.

Regardless, the appeals court gave their arguments short shrift. “If they had refused to escape with the defendant in the defendant’s car, they would not have been involved in the collision which resulted in their injuries,” the court wrote. “Their own conduct of committing the crime and entering defendant’s vehicle to facilitate their immediate flight therefrom proximately caused their injuries and damages.”

While left unsaid, it would seem that crashing less than a mile from the scene of a crime would be considered negligent getaway-car driving as a matter of law.

Let down the curtain, the farce is played.

Last words of François Rabelais in Peter Motteux’s
“The Life of Dr. François Rabelais”

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