More than six million car accidents occur annually on roadways across the United States. Although driver error often is a cause of accidents, many people overlook the significant impacts of car passengers who could distract drivers or otherwise act in a manner that causes a car accident. When a passenger in a private vehicle causes an accident, a lawyer experienced in personal injury cases could help to hold that person liable for the cost of damages and injuries.
Passenger Distractions Cause Many Accidents
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says about four percent of all vehicular accidents are due to an interaction between the driver and a passenger. With more than six million accidents occurring annually, four percent accounts for about 240,000 accidents every year. That includes deadly accidents and others that result in injuries and property damage.
An interaction with a passenger might not necessarily result in an accident. But if that passenger acts in an unreasonable manner that causes the driver to lose sight of the road or otherwise get distracted from driving, an accident is a very real possibility.
Passengers Must Act Reasonably
All people have a general duty of care, which means they need to act responsibly instead of irresponsibly, especially when inside a potentially deadly vehicle. The duty of care is similar to the concept of negligence and carries legal weight in civil courts.
Negligence generally refers to actions that are counter to what a reasonable person would do in a similar situation. Duty of care refers to the legal responsibility that every person, especially an adult, must act in a manner that would reasonably be foreseen to not cause harm to others.
Legal Framework Behind Duty of Care
The duty of care means an adult passenger in a vehicle should know to behave in a reasonable manner that does not adversely affect the driver’s ability to control the vehicle or cause other motorists to lose control. A passenger who is generally passive, converses with the driver and other passengers, and does not insist on playing the car audio too loudly is one exercising a proper duty of care.
A passenger who openly drinks alcohol, imbibes in drug use, or flashes other motorists could be accused of violating a duty of care if that behavior distracts a driver and causes an accident. If the passenger does something even more overt, such as suddenly grabbing the steering wheel or blocking the driver’s vision, that would be a clear violation of the duty of care.
Some states have detailed laws regarding duty of care and its application in potential car accidents. Generally, duty of care determines whether negligence occurred on the part of a passenger. Deciding legal factors to determine duty of care include the following:
- Correlation between defendant’s actions and the injuries or damages suffered
- Likelihood of suffering harm because of negligent behavior
- Extent of the suffering by injured parties
- Insurability of the risks involved
When a passenger acts irresponsibly or downright negligently and increases the likelihood of property damage or injuries occurring, he or she is not abiding a clear duty of care. When those damages include injuries and costly property damage, the threshold for liability against the passenger grows. Since car insurance and many renters and household insurance policies include coverage for such risks, an effective legal case could be made against one or more offending passengers.
Passenger Negligence Could Become Actionable
Although the vast majority of accidents are not the fault of one or more passengers, studies affirm hundreds of thousands of accidents occur each year from interactions between the driver and at least one passenger. When a passenger’s actions clearly cause an accident, that passenger could be held liable in a court of law. Such cases can become complicated.
If the accident only involves one car, a passenger distraction or other cause could be easier to prove. When more than one car is involved, the driver of the vehicle with the offending passenger likely will get ticketed or otherwise be held accountable for the accident. That can make it a lot harder to prove a passenger caused an accident and should be held accountable.
A well-prepared case supported by good evidence can make it possible to ensure the truly liable party is held liable. A well-prepared case requires diligent investigation, especially from the driver who is wrongly held accountable for an accident.
Proving Passenger Fault in Accidents
Although it can be challenging to prove a passenger is responsible for causing an accident, current technology makes it a lot easier to prove. Many vehicles have onboard dash cams and audio-recording devices that could record audio and possibly video of an outrageous passenger. Witnesses, especially other passengers in the same vehicle, could affirm a particular passenger violated the duty of care and acted very negligently.
Many vehicles, intersections, and adjacent properties also have active video recording systems that might have captured evidence of bad passenger behavior. Other motorists, likewise, might be witnesses to especially bad behavior, saw an accident result, and stuck around to ensure the correct party is held liable.
Because safe and reasonable drivers generally abide traffic laws and safety rules, they typically are not at fault during accidents. Mistakes can be made that lead to accidents, but the severity and resulting injuries or property damage tend to be much lower than with people who routinely violate traffic laws and traffic controls.
Motorists who maintain good driving records are more apt to have a stronger claim against a passenger who truly causes an accident. When those claims are supported by evidence and witnesses, the case is strong and the liable passenger could be found liable in a court of law. A homeowners or renter’s insurance policy just might cover the damages caused by unruly passengers.
Towson Personal Injury Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, are Ready to Help Accident Victims
The duty of care ensures passengers can be held liable if their negligent behavior causes an accident. If you or someone you know suffered damages or injuries because of a misbehaving passenger, the experienced Towson personal injury lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, can help to hold irresponsible passengers liable for causing accidents. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.