In most car accidents, liability typically falls on the driver of the vehicle, who’s responsible for operating the vehicle safely. Speeding or disobeying other traffic laws, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and texting while driving are common reasons that drivers have collisions.
However, each car accident is different, and liability depends on the circumstances of each case. Although passengers are generally not liable for a car accident, there are some situations where a passenger may be partially or fully at fault.
What is passenger liability?
The fact that a passenger is not the one driving the car doesn’t automatically excuse them if their behavior caused or contributed to the car accident. When passengers act recklessly or endanger the lives of others, they can be held liable for a collision.
When can passengers be liable for a car accident?
Some of the most common scenarios where passengers may share responsibility for a car accident include the following:
- Distracting the driver: Distracting the driver or diverting the driver’s attention away from the task of driving can be dangerous and may result in a serious car accident. Passenger behaviors that may distract a driver include showing the driver a text message or video on a cell phone, arguing or fighting with the driver, or blocking the driver’s vision.
- Encouraging reckless behavior: When a passenger encourages the driver to act recklessly, such as driving while intoxicated or impaired or racing with other drivers, the passenger may be held partially liable if there is an accident.
- Taking control of the vehicle: A passenger can be held fully liable for a car accident if they take control of the vehicle by grabbing the steering wheel, stepping on the brakes, or maneuvering the vehicle in another way.
Passengers and contributory negligence
In most cases, a passenger who is injured in an automobile accident can file a claim for compensation against the driver of the vehicle. However, passengers should not assume they are free from consequences if they acted in a manner that contributed to the accident. In these cases, the theory of contributory negligence may apply. A small number of states, including Virginia and North Carolina, follow the rule of contributory negligence.
Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that comes into play in personal injury cases, such as car accidents. The contributory negligence rule states that even if a defendant is partly at fault for an accident, they can’t be held responsible if the plaintiff was also partly at fault. A defendant can use contributory negligence as a defense and avoid being held liable for losses even if the plaintiff is only 1% at fault. In other words, if a passenger’s behavior contributed in any way to the car accident, then the defendant would not be responsible for the injury, and the passenger wouldn’t be able to recover damages.
Ask an experienced personal injury lawyer about passenger liability
If you were injured in a car accident, it’s important to consult with an experienced lawyer who can explain your rights and the issue of passenger liability for a car accident. Reach out to Hunter & Everage for a free consultation today.