When does A lead to B?
A Palm Beach County judge must decide whether to make that call himself or let a jury rule on whether the Lyft ride-hailing company is liable for the early morning crash on July 9 that killed 13-year-old honor student Karenine Saint Louis.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Judge Donald W. Hafele heard arguments Monday — the day before what would have been Karenine’s 14th birthday — in a motion by Lyft to throw out the suit.
Hafele said he’d rule later on the motion, which he said was joined by the driver, Jimmy Aguirre, who also is a defendant.
But his questions and comments hinted he had a problem with finding Lyft at fault for something that happened hours after it exited the drama.
“How far did this go?” Hafele said in court Monday. “If this happened two days later, would there be any difference?”
Scott Fischer, a lawyer for the girl’s parents, responded, “If it was days later, we wouldn’t be here.”
Jimmy Aguirre sat in the back with his father. The girl’s mother, Josie Saint Fleur, and her father, Antoine Saint Louis, who lives in Haiti, sat at a table with lawyers. No one would comment afterward.
The “intervening cause” legal concept argues that a party can’t be responsible if something happens between an act and an injury and it can’t be proven that the initial act directly caused the damage.
That this case revolves around that issue was not lost on Hafele, who noted the appearance of Kara Rockenbach, a top appeals lawyer, on behalf of Karenine’s parents.
Rockenbach insisted to the judge that it was for a jury to decide whether “it is reasonably foreseeable that danger or harm” could have ensued “when you take a minor 13-year-old girl in pajamas and remove her from her community at 1 a.m.”
Lawyers say that late on the evening of July 8, the two teens discussed a clandestine rendezvous at the boy’s Greenacres home, 8 miles from Karenine’s home in suburban Boynton Beach. The girl’s grandmother was asleep and her mother, a nurse who was working an overnight shift, thought she was home in her bed. The mother has said she had never heard of the boy before the crash.
The suit says Karenine and Jimmy decided to call Lyft. It says Leonardo Zambrano Dey — the Lyft driver who also is a defendant in the suit— picked up Karenine just after 1:10 a.m. and dropped her about 15 minutes later at the boy’s home. Dey, the suit says, spoke no English and didn’t know Lyft barred transporting minors.
“He picked her up, asked her no questions,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Fischer argued. “And she never came home alive.”
About 4½ hours after the ride, the suit says, Jimmy discovered the balance was too low on his parents’ Lyft account, and he “had no option” to sneak her back home except to drive her.
State records show the boy, who’s since turned 18, had a Class E learner’s permit, which requires someone who’s at least 21 years old to be in the front seat when he drives. The state later suspended his license.
A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report on the crash says the two were the only ones in the 2002 Ford F-150, the girl in front, when Aguirre lost control on a wet street at about 5:30 a.m and slammed into two trees on southbound Jog Road, south of Lantana Road. Jimmy suffered minor injuries.
The sheriff’s office has said it does not plan to file criminal charges in the crash. It still could issue traffic charges. The agency says it will provide neither additional details nor documents because its investigation is not finished. A crash report said neither person wore seat belts. There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved.
“It’s absolutely a tragic, sad circumstance that brings us here,” Lyft attorney Andrew Kemp-Gerstel said Monday in court. But, he said, Lyft can’t possibly have foreseen the fatal crash.
“Is there any end to damage that can occur to a person after being dropped off by a Lyft driver that could cause us to be held liable?” Kemp-Gerstel said.
And Hilton Napoleon II, a lawyer for Dey, the Lyft driver, noted that Karenine had other potential means to get to Aguirre’s home.
“She could have took a train,” he said. “Is every transportation company going to be responsible for verifying a person’s age?”
That prompted Fischer to say, “I just want to focus on what actually did happen,” repeating that a jury should be permitted to decide this case.
Ultimately, the judge said, the driver left behind a person who was very much alive.
“There’s nothing wrong with the delivery per se other than the allegation that this Lyft driver should have ID’d her,” the judge said. “The delivery of the child was successful. It’s what transpired hours later.”