When Can a Passenger Be Held Liable for a Car Accident?
March 17, 2023
A car accident claim is typically filed against the driver of another vehicle involved in the crash. Pennsylvania residents rarely hear about passengers of a car that caused an accident being held liable for an innocent party’s subsequent injuries. However, in recent years, distracted driving has become an increasing concern and cause of countless serious car crashes. Passengers in vehicles are sometimes the cause of distracting drivers, requiring a review of liability and passenger responsibilities.
A passenger’s actions can influence a car accident or personal injury case to the point they can be found at least partially at fault. When a passenger puts their hands on the steering wheel of the car they are riding in, they automatically become perceived as a driver. As a driver, this passenger can be assigned liability for a car accident and have claims filed against their auto insurance policy by injured third parties.
Car accident cases involving a negligent passenger can be complicated. As noted, a passenger is generally not held liable for a car accident. In recent years, however, passenger liability has been examined more closely. This is largely due to the surge in traffic fatalities due to reckless and distracted driving.
These kinds of bad driving behaviors are often contributed to by other occupants in the car. Teenagers that ride together are the most likely to be involved in car accidents caused by reckless or distracted driving.
The following are circumstances when a passenger can be held liable for a car accident:
- Operating the vehicle:If the passenger takes control of the steering wheel, brakes, gear shifts, or any other mechanical part that maneuvers the vehicle, they are automatically viewed as the driver and can be held liable for a subsequent car accident.
- Enabling or encouraging the driver: A passenger can be held partially responsible for injuries incurred in a car accident if they enabled or encouraged an unfit person to drive the vehicle.
- Incapacitating the driver: Passengers can be held liable if they directly interfered with a driver’s ability to safely operate a car, such as covering the driver’s eyes, tugging at their clothes, or using dangerous verbal distractions.
Drivers have a duty to safely control their vehicle at all times, take full responsibility of driving, and follow all traffic laws. When drivers cannot safely operate their car, they should find a safe place to stop until they are able to drive safely again. A common example of this is when a driver pulls over because of exhaustion.
This rule also applies when drivers have distracting or unruly passengers in their vehicle. If a driver is at risk of losing control of their vehicle due to a passenger, it is their responsibility to take immediate action in order to prevent an accident. This means stopping the car, assessing the situation, and refraining from driving until the passenger is no longer distracting them.
How Can Passengers Distract Drivers?
The following are ways a passenger can distract the driver of a car, requiring the driver to take preventable measures to avoid a collision:
- Physically touching the driver.
- Compromising the driver’s vision.
- Taking the driver’s focus off of the road.
- Grabbing at the vehicle’s control features.
Because drivers have a duty to avoid passenger-related distractions, they are still liable for an accident their vehicle caused. Even in cases when a driver has four loud passengers in the car, it is still the driver’s duty to operate their vehicle safely. However, a negligent passenger who distracts a driver is not always free of liability if they contributed to an accident.
When Can a Claim Be Filed Against a Passenger?
In most cases, a passenger who is injured in an accident can file a claim for compensation against the driver of that vehicle. However, passengers should not assume they are free from consequences if they are negligent or intentionally distract the driver. In these cases, the theory of comparative negligence may apply. When a passenger’s own negligence or reckless behavior contributed to a car accident, it reduces the amount of compensation they are able to collect.
Additionally, if a passenger willingly gets into a car that is being driven by an individual they know is impaired, fatigued, or distracted, it can be argued that they assumed the risk of being involved in an accident. Assumption of risk does not eliminate the driver’s liability in the event of an accident, but it often increases the passenger’s liability to an extent.
Passengers are unable to obtain compensation if they knowingly get in the car with a person incapable of driving because it insinuates that the passenger consented to ride with that driver. Examples of when someone would be considered incapable of safely driving a vehicle include:
- Suffering from a physical condition, such as seizures.
- Experiencing a mental impairment.
- Under the influence of alcohol or any other drug.
- Driving while drowsy or fatigued.
- Driving carelessly or recklessly.
Passengers should never assume they are free from liability, especially if they intentionally try to distract their driver. If that distracted driver gets in a car accident that results in the passenger being injured, it can reduce the amount of compensation they can receive because of comparative negligence. This situation most commonly occurs in single-vehicle accidents where the passenger is not related to the driver.
Get Legal Help From Galfand Berger LLP
Injured parties who feel that a passenger caused an accident should get legal help from an experienced attorney. Galfand Berger LLP has a longstanding reputation for helping car accident survivors recover the compensation they need and deserve for their injuries. Some of our past cases:
- $1.1 million settlement for head injury. Our client suffered a closed head injury after another driver turned in front of her car, causing a car accident. What initially appeared to be a bruised forehead turned out to be a serious head injury resulting in memory loss and behavioral changes. We recovered $1.1 million on behalf of our client.
- $1 million verdict for car accident. Our client was involved in a car accident that caused severe injuries, including a fractured pelvis and broken leg. When the defendant’s insurance company attempted to negotiate a low settlement, our legal team took the case to trial and secured a $1 million jury verdict in favor of our client.
Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Help Injured Parties Involved in Passenger Accidents
If you have been injured in an accident due to a passenger’s negligent or reckless behavior, our Philadelphia car accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are here to help. Our knowledgeable attorneys stay on top of all the current laws and liability rules related to car accident cases. We will take the time to thoroughly review your case. To schedule a free initial consultation, call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online. With offices in Philadelphia, Reading, Bethlehem, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we serve clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.