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When determining fault in a car accident, the focus is usually on the drivers of the vehicles. There are many reasons that a driver might be at fault in a car accident, including driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding excessively, or simply not paying close enough attention to the road. However, in certain cases, it could actually be the passenger who ends up being liable for an accident. When passengers act recklessly, they may be responsible for damages.
CAN A PASSENGER BE LIABLE FOR A CAR ACCIDENT?
The general responsibility for driving safely typically will fall on the driver. This makes sense—they are the ones who have control of the car. This responsibility includes obeying the rules of the road, maintaining awareness of their surroundings, both inside and outside the vehicle, and generally making sure that they are not driving negligently. However, passengers also have responsibilities. These responsibilities can be boiled down into one simple rule—don’t distract the driver or create any sort of dangerous or distracting situation while on the road.
Some of the ways in which a passenger might breach their responsibility include:
- Encouraging a driver to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Encouraging the driver to take part in a street race.
- Fighting with the driver
- Purposefully or recklessly creating any sort of scenario in which the driver is forced to take their eyes off of the road and focus on the passenger
A passenger may be liable for an accident that results from any of these behaviors.
ACTIONS THAT GO BEYOND DISTRACTING A DRIVER
Determining liability for a car accident can be complicated. It is important to remember that drivers retain the responsibility to drive safely, even if a passenger begins to act erratically. In these situations, the best thing for a driver to do is to pull over to the side of the road and address the situation. However, there can be situations in which a passenger’s actions cross the line and subject them to some, if not all, of the liability associated with the accident.
A concert-of-action case arises when someone’s words or actions result in the injury or another. An example of this can be found in tragic cases like this one, where one party encouraged another to commit suicide. Similarly, a court could find that a passenger caused a car accident if they did something like peer pressure a driver to drive dangerously or distracted the driver by getting them to look at a picture or video on their phone.
A conspiracy is a related legal term that describes a situation where two or more people form an agreement to commit an illegal act combined with intent or an overt act in furtherance of that goal. While that may be complicated, it boils down to a situation where two people agree to commit a wrongful act. A conspiracy could be a situation where two people in a car agree that they will go take the car to race in a street race. The passenger is not technically the one who is operating the car, but if they were to get in an accident, it is possible that they would share the liability with the driver.
Consent to Safety Risks
It is important to remember that the law will typically look to impose liability on the driver of the vehicle. As the person who is driving the car, it is their responsibility to make sure that they are driving safely. If the passenger that they are transporting is behaving in a distracting way, it is the responsibility of the driver to pull over or otherwise handle the situation. Drivers consent to a certain amount of safety risk by transporting a passenger. Unless the passenger is behaving in a truly negligent way, the law is reluctant to impose liability on them.
ARE DRIVERS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR PASSENGERS?
As with many questions in a car accident claim, the correct answer is, “It depends.” There are always going to be several moving parts in any car accident claim, and determining if a driver is responsible for the injuries of their passenger is going to depend on the type and circumstances of the accident. In many cases, the driver is going to be responsible for the injuries of the passengers in their car. However, this is not always the case.
When a driver is in an accident involving only their vehicle, whether they collided with an inanimate object like a light pole, or slide off of the road, it is likely that they will bear the responsibility for that accident, and the damages that it caused. There may be exceptions, for example, if a city or township failed to properly maintain a road, then it is possible that they could share the liability for an accident. However, the general rule is that the driver will bear the brunt of the responsibility when their car is the only one involved in an accident.
Subsequently, the passenger in an accident like this may likely file a claim with the insurance policy of the driver. Unless the driver can prove that the passenger was acting negligently or recklessly, then the driver will likely be responsible for their injuries.
Adding in another driver complicates whether a driver is liable for any injuries to their passengers, or the passengers in another car. Again, it is often determined that the fault for the accident lies wholly with one of the drivers in the accident, or split between multiple drivers.
This situation will require an attorney who understands the laws of the state in which your accident occurred. The laws of your state will dictate who passengers may seek compensation from. In short, however, it is likely that a driver who is found to be liable for an accident will be on the hook to pay damages for injuries to any passengers that they may have caused.
Family Members as Passengers
A caveat to note in these situations is that family members who live in the same household as the driver will typically not be allowed to file a claim with the driver’s insurance if there is a family or household exclusion. This will depend on the driver’s insurance policy. Contact an experienced attorney to review applicable insurance policies and determine who may be eligible to recover benefits.
ARE PASSENGERS COVERED BY THE DRIVER’S CAR INSURANCE?
Whether a passenger is covered by the driver’s insurance policy depends on a variety of factors. These factors include who was at fault for the accident, what kind of insurance policy the driver has and what exactly it covers, and what the laws of the state are in which the accident took place. Speaking with an experienced car accident lawyer in your state may help you determine who is liable in your case.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
Whether you are a driver or passenger in an accident, there are a few steps that you should make sure to complete after an accident to keep yourself safe and ensure that you do not damage a potential claim for damages.
1. Seek Medical Attention
Get medical attention as quickly as possible after an accident. Even if you do not think that you suffered a major injury, going to a doctor can help uncover any latent injuries and create a record of the injuries that you suffered in the accident.
2. Document the Accident
After taking care of your medical needs, begin the process of documenting the accident as thoroughly as possible. This can include gathering any photo or video evidence that might be available, putting together medical records, and contacting the local law enforcement department to obtain police records.
3. Contact a Car Accident Attorney
No matter your situation, the best way to determine how to move forward is to speak with an experienced car accident attorney in your area.
OUR CAR ACCIDENT ATTORNEYS MAY HELP
Zinda Law Group has years of experience representing car accident victims. Our attorneys may give your case the attention it deserves and fight for you to receive maximum compensation. We believe that accident victims shouldn’t have to worry about their ability to afford legal representation, which is why we offer our No Win, No Fee Guarantee—you don’t pay us anything unless we win your case for you.
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