Even if you have a vehicle of your own, at some point, you’ll likely be a passenger in someone else’s car. Most of the time, the worst thing about being a passenger is not being allowed to pick the music. But if there’s a car accident, being a passenger suddenly becomes a more serious issue.
If you’re a passenger in a car accident, you have certain legal rights. Read on to learn what Alabama personal injury law says about the rights of a passenger in a car accident.
NOTE: This article focuses on social rides with friends, not paid rides such as those offered by taxis or services like Lyft and Uber.
The Passenger Seat: A Risky Position?
Of course, even a minor accident can injure anyone in the vehicle. But research confirms that a person’s position in the car involved in an accident can affect the risk of and severity of injuries.
While some research indicates that drivers are more likely to be harmed in accidents – particularly trucking accidents – the outcomes depend on a variety of factors. In most passenger vehicle crashes, passengers suffer more and more severe injuries. One study found that front-seat passengers suffer worse injuries than drivers; others found that the front-seat riders were at greater risk than those in the backseat. Overall, it appears that compared to drivers, passengers face higher risks of injury and death.
In Alabama, the same pattern holds. According to data from the Alabama Department of Transportation, front-seat passengers and drivers are equally likely to die in crashes, but front seat riders are far more likely to be injured. This fact remains true even when front passengers use proper seatbelts. So, in America and in Alabama, passengers are likely to be injured.
Passenger Injuries – What Alabama Personal Injury Law Says
Because passengers face great risks, a passenger in a car accident should learn as much as possible about their rights under Alabama personal injury law.
When a passenger is injured, Alabama personal injury law focuses on the drivers. Specifically, the law looks at which driver caused the accident.
If another driver hits the car you were riding in, generally, you should be in good legal shape. When the other driver is at fault in the crash, the best way to obtain compensation is to have your personal injury attorney file an injury claim against that driver’s insurance company. Because it’s difficult to argue that a passenger caused the accident, you should be able to recover damages such as medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. You can recover damages up to the amount of the driver’s policy limits. (Of course, car accident claims can be denied for many reasons.)
Nevertheless, you may confront some issues after you file an insurance claim. For instance, if the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured, you may need to hire an auto accident attorney to pursue compensation. It may be difficult if the driver has limited assets, but an experienced auto accident attorney can help.
If your acquaintance caused the accident, receiving compensation may be more complicated. Alabama has a guest passenger statute. Guest passenger laws prevent social passengers from suing their friends after accidents. So, if your friend was the at-fault driver, recovering medical expenses and other damages will be much more difficult. In fact, if you file an insurance claim against your friend’s policy, once the company learns that you were a social passenger, it will almost certainly use the guest statute to deny your injury claim and refuse to pay for your medical bills.
Exceptions to the Guest Passenger Rule
The guest statute makes things more difficult for a passenger involved in the accident. But all hope is not lost. Alabama personal injury lawyers often use one of the exceptions to the guest statute to push car accident claims forward.
– Driving for Hire
The guest statute does not apply to rides for hire. While an Uber ride would be the best example of this, it is not the only one. Under Alabama law, if you can prove that the ride benefitted each of you in some way (for example – the driver offered a ride in exchange for help with errands) you may avoid the guest statute.
– Reckless Behavior
The guest statute only applies to negligent behavior. So, Alabama law still allows guests to sue when a driver engages in willful or wanton behavior. Unlike negligent drivers – who are simply careless – these drivers purposefully engage in dangerous activities without regard to the consequences. A driver who chose to drive 20 miles over the speed limit in bad weather while texting has likely engaged in wanton behavior.
If the other driver begins driving recklessly and you object, you may be able to file a claim. Your objections show that you do not agree with the dangerous behavior. This will help you overcome the guest statute.
NOTE: If you voluntarily get into the car with a drunk driver, the statute will likely prevent you from recovering even if you later object to unsafe driving.
The guest statute and its exceptions are complex, but an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney can help you determine if any of these exceptions apply in your case.
Need Help for a Passenger in a Car Accident?
Hopefully, this article has taught you a bit about how Alabama law treats passengers in car accidents. If you were the driver or the passenger in a car accident, contact Collins Law, LLC today. Our team of Alabama personal injury lawyers helps injury victims in Birmingham and throughout the state with trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, and many types of car accidents. We’ll help you get the compensation you deserve! Click here or call (205) 881-0403 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.