Filing a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death claim after a street racing accident
The prevalence of street racing in California has quadrupled since 2015.
Fueled by popular films, including The Fast and the Furious franchise, which grossed more than 1.5 billion dollars globally, illegal street racing has become such a problem in California that the state has created several task forces to focus on the issue.
Street racing is not just an illegal activity with criminal consequences. When someone is injured or killed in a street racing crash, a civil lawsuit may be appropriate.
What is street racing?
Street racing is the illegal practice of racing vehicles on public roads.
Street racers and spectators typically meet on a remote street where a ⅛-or ¼-mile track is marked off. A volunteer stands between two cars and drops their hands to signal the start of the race. Although there are usually only two racers racing at a time, it’s not uncommon for there to be hundreds of spectators.
Street racing is becoming more and more sophisticated in the United States. Today, street races typically feature flaggers, timekeepers, lookouts armed with computers and police scanners, and even websites dedicated to documenting the events.
American street racing dates back to the 1950s and has been popularized in movies, including Rebel Without a Cause, Grease, and The Fast and the Furious franchise.
And who could forget this Paula Abdul music video with young Keanu in a street race:
Police suspect that many street racers engage in illegal activities in order to finance their hobby. What’s more, street racing is associated with several other problems, including:
- Auto theft
- Curfew violations
- Drunk driving
- Excess wear and tear on public streets
- Gang-related activity
- Insurance fraud
- Illegal vehicle modification
- Noise complaints
According to researchers at Arizona State University, there are three main “groups” of street racers. These include:
- 18 to 24-year-old males who live at home and have little income;
- 25 to 40-year-old white males who engage in building and racing old muscle cars; and
- Asian and Hispanic males of a wide range of ages who drive late-model imported cars (e.g., Hondas, Acuras, Mitsubishis, and Nissans).
How common is street racing in California?
California is largely considered the street racing capital of the country, and the problem is only getting worse.
In California, the number of citations issued for street racing has increased 300 percent since 2015. In 2021, the California Highway Patrol responded to more than 25,000 calls involving illegal street racing.
“Almost every weekend or every couple of weeks, we have a fatality somewhere in the county that’s related to street racing,” said Sgt. Michael Downing of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Although casualties from street racing have not been well tracked by the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 50 people die each year as a result of street racing. Most researchers argue the number is a lot higher.
In California, several task forces have been created by the California Highway Patrol to reduce and prevent illegal street racing. These task forces include:
- The Street Racing Task Force. The Street Racing Task Force was created using officers from Santa Fe Springs that have specialized training from the Bureau of Automotive Repair. These officers work jointly with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. On a recent weekend evening, the Street Racing Task Force issued 300 citations, impounded 50 vehicles, and arrested 20 individuals.
- The Side Show Detail. The term “sideshow” refers to an informal demonstration of automotive stunts. The Side Show Detail was created by the Oakland Police Department to reduce street racing and sideshows. On a recent weekend evening, the Side Show Detail issued 150 citations, impounded 80 vehicles, and made 30 arrests.
If you see any person engaged in illegal street racing, you’re encouraged to contact the California Highway Patrol at 1-800-TELL-CHP.
On October 25, 2021, police broke up a street race in Los Angeles. One of the street racers, 18-year-old Luis Carrillo-Castaneda, fled the scene at an extremely high rate of speed and was pursued by a helicopter.
While driving down Van Nuys Street, Luis lost control of his vehicle and smashed into a store at the southwest corner of Woodley Avenue and Saticoy Street. The crash resulted in the death of a customer who was in the store and injured several others.
Luis Carrillo-Castaneda was arrested at the scene and charged with murder.
Criminal consequences of street racing in California
The California Penal Code Section 23109(a) defines “street racing” as “a motor vehicle race against another vehicle, clock, or other timing device.”
A person convicted of violating California Penal Code Section 23109(a) faces the following penalties:
- A county jail sentence between 24 hours and 90 days.
- A fine between $355 and $1,000.
- Forty hours of community service.
- License suspension for a time period between 90 days and 6 months.
- Impoundment of the vehicle for up to 30 days.
If the street racer has a prior conviction or the race results in an injury to another person, the street racer faces an enhanced penalty of not less than 30 days in jail and a fine of not less than $500.
What’s more, any individual who aids or abets a street racer can be charged under California Penal Code Section 23109(b), which carries a fine and possible prison time.
Civil consequences of street racing in California
If you’ve been injured in a street-racing accident, you can file a personal injury claim against the person responsible for injuring you.
In most cases, you’ll need to prove that the other person was negligent. To prove negligence in California, you must establish the following three legal elements:
- The driver owed you a duty. All drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road.
- The driver breached their duty. To prove that a driver breached their duty, you will have to show that the driver failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care. For example, the driver was speeding.
- You were injured as a result of the driver's breach. It's not enough that the driver failed to exercise reasonable care; you must prove that their failure caused your accident.
Unfortunately, many street racing accidents are fatal. If a loved one is killed in a street racing accident, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks compensation for the loss of a loved one, including lost wages, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
In California, a wrongful death claim can be filed by the deceased person’s:
- Domestic partner; or
If there's no surviving spouse, partner, or child, a person who is entitled to the deceased person's property by succession (in other words, next of kin) is eligible to file a claim.
California’s comparative fault rule
California follows a comparative fault system. This means that a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their share of fault.
Consider the following example:
Mateo decides to organize an illegal street race. He contacts two street racers—Carlos and Billy—and tells them to meet him at Avalon Boulevard in Willowbrook, California, at 1:00 am.
Mateo arrives at Avalon Boulevard at 12:30 am and marks off a ¼-mile section of track. By the time Carlos and Billy show up to the race, hundreds of spectators have gathered.
Mateo stands on the sidewalk next to the street to watch the race. Although Mateo doesn’t know it, Carlos is drunk. Moments after the race begins, Carlos veers off the road and clips Mateo.
Miraculously, Mateo survives, but he suffers a traumatic brain injury.
Mateo’s father files a personal injury lawsuit against Carlos on Mateo’s behalf for $10 million.
A California jury finds that Mateo suffered $10 million in damages, but the jury also finds that Mateo was 20 percent at fault for the accident (for organizing the illegal street race).
Under California’s comparative fault system, Mateo can only recover $8 million.
What damages are available in California street racing cases?
California allows victims of street racing accidents to recover the following types of damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by the street-racing accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damages).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by the street-racing accident (pain and suffering, loss of consortium).
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. In California, punitive damages are only available if the defendant acted with malice. Malice is defined under California Civil Code 3294 as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
Have you lost a loved one in a preventable accident? Find a wrongful death attorney who can help you.
What is the statute of limitations for California street racing cases?
All states limit the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit based on an accident. This time limitation is called the statute of limitations.
In California, the statute of limitations for most street racing accidents is 2 years. This means you have 2 years from the date of the street racing accident to file your personal injury lawsuit. If you fail to file your lawsuit within this 2-year period, your claim will be forever barred.
If you’re facing criminal charges as a result of a street-racing accident, it’s best to reach out to a criminal defense attorney. However, if you’ve been injured in a street-racing accident, consider reaching out to a California personal injury attorney.