Many drivers who are involved in an automobile accident do not realize that they could be liable for damages to passengers who were riding in their car at the time the accident occurs. Anytime you, as a driver, are negligent when behind the wheel, you may be liable for damages to anyone that is injured as a result of that negligence. This may include the passengers in your own vehicle. However, just because there is an accident when you are driving does not mean you are at fault and can be held liable. There are a number of issues that must be addressed before you can determine your liability in that situation, and they are questions and issues best addressed by an experienced attorney.
Your attorney will want to know all the details surrounding the accident in which your passengers were injured. Many factors play into whether you might be liable for damages to your passengers.
Perhaps the most important question that impacts this analysis is, who was at fault for the car accident. While that question may be straightforward in some instances, at other times, the answer is not so clear. So, for example, some times when it may be obvious that a driver is at fault might include when the driver was operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, where the driver was driving recklessly, or when the driver was distracted, such as by texting while driving. In each of those situations, it seems clear the driver was at fault for the accident and may be liable for damages to others, including the passengers.
But other situations are not so clear. What about a situation where the driver was driving safely but was struck by another vehicle? Or a situation where bad weather or dangerous road conditions played a part in the accident? Or even more complicated, what if the passengers in question were distracting the driver or somehow contributing to unsafe driving conditions? In these scenarios, the water gets much murkier, and you really need the expertise of a seasoned attorney to help you navigate the legal landscape surrounding the question of liability to passengers in these types of situations. An experienced attorney can look at all the facts that can be gathered about a situation, including those that were happening outside the driver’s vehicle and outside the driver’s control, to determine whether the driver was at fault or not.
The important thing to keep in mind is that fault is not always black and white, there are many shades of gray. Sometimes fault can be assigned to multiple parties (including various drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians), and other times, fault may not be assigned at all (such as when dangerous driving conditions caused the collision and no driver can be shown to be negligent). While a driver can be sued by any passenger that travels in the vehicle, whether or not that passenger can be successful in that lawsuit is another issue. The analysis of an experienced attorney can assist in determining any available defenses that might either shift liability away from the driver, or at minimum, decrease the amount of responsibility a court might ultimately place on the driver.
If you have been involved in an accident and are concerned that your passengers might be seeking to bring a lawsuit against you for their damages, it is important that you protect yourself by reaching out to and consulting with an experienced attorney. An attorney can give you the important guidance you need to protect yourself from a lawsuit and can assist you to defend yourself in the event you are actually sued.