Generally speaking, if you asked the average person who would be at fault for an automobile accident, most people would assume that the answer is the driver since they are the ones in charge of operating the vehicle. In contrast, a passenger has no control over a vehicle and is simply a person who is along for the ride or is in the car to get a ride to a specific destination.
While the majority of lawsuits arising from automobile accidents that impact both a driver and a passenger are typically filed against the driver, there are some instances where a driver may be able to recover damages from a passenger after an accident.
This can happen in situations where a passenger acted in a way that is proven to be negligent, which led to the deaths or serious bodily injury of other persons either inside or outside of the vehicle (e.g., driver, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.).
Although there is really no such claim in law as “passenger negligence”, there are certain acts that a passenger can carry out or be a part of during a ride. These may either reduce the amount of damages they can recover in a personal injury lawsuit, bar them from bringing a lawsuit altogether, or for which they can be held liable for by other parties to the accident, such as the driver.
In addition, a passenger can also be sued in conjunction with a defendant driver if they were partially to blame for causing the accident. The types of acts that could establish passenger liability in an automobile accident will be discussed in further detail in the section below.
Finally, if you need assistance with an issue that concerns passenger liability, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local personal injury attorney for further assistance. A personal injury attorney who has experience with handling such matters will be able to answer any questions you may have about the topic, can determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against a claim, and can help you recover any damages that you may be owed.
What Actions Can Make a Passenger Liable for an Automobile Accident?
As discussed above, holding a passenger liable for injuries sustained in an automobile accident is not something that is done too often. This is because it is assumed that the driver is the person who is in control of the vehicle. Thus, they are the ones who are legally responsible for the safety and care of their passengers and other drivers or individuals traveling on the road.
However, there are a handful of situations in which a driver or other person may be justified in holding a passenger liable for injuries stemming from an automobile accident. Some actions that can make a passenger liable for injuries caused by an automobile accident may include the following:
- If the passenger demands or encourages the driver to do something that is negligent, dangerous, or illegal (e.g., drag racing, extreme speeding, doing donuts in a crowded parking lot, driving on the sidewalk, etc.);
- If the passenger actually performs the negligent, dangerous, or illegal action, such as by grabbing the steering wheel, pulling the emergency break, taking control of the car, and so on;
- If the passenger intentionally gave the driver wrong information or purposely did not warn them of a driving hazard (e.g., if the passenger saw a car passing by while the driver was pulling out of their driveway, but told them it was safe to continue backing out);
- If the passenger knows the driver is tired, jetlagged, or impaired by alcohol and/or other illegal substances and allows them to drive the passenger’s car regardless;
- If the passenger gave the driver alcohol or illegal substances prior to riding in the vehicle as a passenger (note that the distribution of alcohol or illegal substances to the driver can be taken by the driver either voluntarily or involuntarily. If involuntarily, then this will more than likely justify holding the passenger liable for injuries sustained in an accident);
- If the passenger gets into a serious argument with the driver and starts to become violent (e.g., hitting the driver so hard that they lose control of the vehicle); and/or
- If the passenger performs some other act that distracts the driver and endangers the lives of other individuals.
In addition, it should be noted that in each of the above scenarios, the passenger must be directly responsible for the accident or else the driver may be held completely liable.
Some tips that may be useful for drivers to know when trying to calm down a passenger who is out of control include:
- Finding a safe spot to pull over and stop the car;
- Asking them to stop their dangerous acts, or if parked, asking them to get out of the car;
- Refusing to drive with that passenger in the first place; and/or
- Explaining the consequences they could face if they continue behaving in the manner that they are now.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Help with Issues Involving Passenger Liability in an Automobile Accident?
Claiming that a passenger is liable for an automobile accident can be an extremely challenging argument to prove. This is especially true in cases where the driver and a passenger were the only persons in the motor vehicle at the time of the accident.
Also, the outcomes to passenger liability automobile accident lawsuits are often hard to predict due to the fact that the laws that apply in these cases tend to vary widely by state and based on the circumstances surrounding a specific legal matter.
Thus, if you are having issues regarding passenger liability in an automobile accident, then it is strongly recommended that you speak to a local car accident lawyers as soon as possible. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you assess the facts of your case, can discuss your options for legal recourse based on their findings, and can explain what types of remedies you may be able to receive under each of those options if you win the case.
Your attorney can also assist you in drafting any necessary legal documents, can aid you in filing a legal claim in the appropriate court, and can discuss your rights under the applicable laws.
Alternatively, if you are a defendant and are being sued for injuries resulting from an automobile accident, your attorney can explain the types of legal consequences you may be facing if you lose your case and can determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against a claim.
In addition, your attorney will be able to provide representation on your behalf both in court and/or at a settlement conference held outside of court if you and the other parties to the lawsuit elect to resolve the dispute through a method of alternative dispute resolution (e.g., mediation, arbitration, facilitation, informal negotiation, etc.).
Lastly, if you believe that a passenger in your vehicle is partly responsible for causing the accident, your attorney may be able to have them added as a defendant to the case or can help you sue them for their portion of the resulting damages as well.