YOUR RIGHTS AS A PASSENGER IN A ONE-CAR ACCIDENT
by J. Lee Nation
“I was riding shotgun in my friend’s truck. He was going way too fast. I asked him to slow down but he didn’t. As we rounded a curve in the road, we skidded and flipped five times. I was seriously injured. Can I be compensated for my injuries even though another car didn’t crash into us?”
Passengers are often more injured in car accidents than the drivers are. This is especially true of back seat passengers who might have forgotten to fasten their seatbelt, or who may have been distracted and unable to brace for impact.
In Alabama, passengers injured in a car accident are subject to Alabama’s Guest Passenger Statute. Here it is:
The owner, operator, or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle shall not be liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or death of a guest while being transported without payment therefor in or upon said motor vehicle, resulting from the operation thereof, unless such injuries or death are caused by the willful or wanton misconduct of such operator, owner, or person responsible for the operation of the motor vehicle.
Code of Ala. 1975, § 32-1-2.
Since this law went into effect 80 years ago, state courts have looked at the law on numerous occasions. “Who is a guest?” and “what counts as payment?” are a couple of issues the courts have addressed. We will discuss those issues in this blog.
As a passenger injured in a one-car accident, you can be compensated from the driver’s liability insurance coverage or your own uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance coverage as long as certain conditions apply. A summary of the Alabama Pattern Jury Instruction 26.07 demonstrates a few ways a passenger may recover:
1) If having the passenger in the car is of any benefit to the driver;
2) If having a passenger is for the common benefit of both the passenger and the driver; or
3) If the driver insists the passenger ride with her so the passenger can provide a gift, benefit or service to her.
Even if you didn’t give the driver money to give you a ride or you didn’t buy the driver gas, you can still recover if the driver was driving recklessly or was speeding excessively. In fact, that type of reckless behavior by the driver could make your case more valuable to a jury.
In summary, if the driver was driving recklessly, you paid for the driver’s gas, gave the driver a $5 dollar bill for the trip, or the driver was driving you somewhere where you could pick up something for the driver’s benefit, you may be able to recover against the driver’s insurance even if no other vehicle was involved in the crash.
If a driver of a second car is at fault, (let’s say someone decides to play chicken with the vehicle you are riding in and causes your car to swerve and flip), you may also be able sue that driver as well.
Hurt in an automobile accident? Call me today at (256) 429-9492.