Your Rights as a Passenger in a Car Accident | Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C.

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Your Rights as a Passenger in a Car Accident

Jun 21, 2023 | Car Accidents

It’s no surprise Americans are spending more time behind the wheel. In fact, a survey from AAA Foundation’s American Driving Survey found that U.S. drivers spend an average of about an hour per day driving and travel nearly 30 miles.

While you might do most of your driving in your own vehicle, what happens if you’re in an accident as a passenger? Alabama has a unique law applying to passengers in accidents which could affect your options. However, knowing your rights and consulting with a personal injury attorney can maximize your chances of a successful financial recovery.

Can Passengers Recover Damages after a Car Accident?

Yes, passengers can and should recover damages if they’re hurt due to someone else’s negligence. Passengers don’t expect to be in an accident any more than the driver of the car does, and they shouldn’t be responsible for the expenses from the damages they suffered. Passengers may be entitled to damages such as:

  • Current and future medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium

The damages you could be entitled to may vary depending on the facts of your case and the extent of your injuries, but your attorney will help you calculate the full value of your claim. If a passenger was killed in a car accident, their family could pursue wrongful death damages.

How Can Passengers Recover Compensation?

Injured passengers have legal options to pursue compensation from the at-fault party. You may be able to file an insurance claim with the liable driver’s insurance — in fact, many similar claims settle this way and don’t make it to court. However, some cases could require a lawsuit, such as if the other driver was uninsured or underinsured.

Proving Negligence as a Passenger

You’ll have to prove the at-fault driver’s negligence for your claim to be successful. A passenger injury lawyer will work with you to hold all the at-fault parties accountable using evidence such as:

  • Police reports
  • Photo and video of the accident scene
  • Video footage from nearby traffic or security cameras
  • Witness statements

Seek medical attention as soon as possible after the accident. This will help document the extent of your injuries. Keep up with your doctor’s recommended treatment plan and attend all follow-up appointments to keep the at-fault driver’s insurance company from claiming your injuries aren’t as severe as you say.

Alabama’s Guest Statute Could Impact Your Case

Alabama law has unique a unique statute affecting liability in some car accident cases. Ala. Code § 32-1-2, also known as the guest passenger rule, states drivers are not liable for passengers’ injuries in most accidents. This means that if the driver of your vehicle was at fault for the accident, you may not be able to bring a claim against them to recover damages.

Exceptions to the Guest Statute

Though the guest statute might limit your ability to receive compensation for your injuries, it doesn’t mean you are out of options. Several exceptions to the rule exist, such as:

  • Paying for the ride — for example, through a rideshare app such as Lyft or Uber
  • The driver engaging in reckless or wanton behavior such as texting while driving, driving under the influence, or speeding recklessly
  • Protesting the driver’s behavior — if you become fearful of the driver’s actions, voicing your concern can help overcome their liability protections
  • The ride was for a business trip or venture
  • The passenger is a minor

Another exception applies if the ride served the interests of both parties. This exception was the subject of an Alabama Supreme Case in 2017. In Hurst v. Sneed, a passenger was hurt in an accident while riding to a store with their neighbor. The passenger took the ride specifically to assist the driver with shopping and other errands. Since the passenger’s being in the car benefitted the driver on their ride, the court ruled that the guest statute did not apply and the passenger could pursue damages from the driver.

Exceptions to the guest statute can complicate your case, so it’s best to discuss with an attorney if you think any could apply.

Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C. Helps Injured Passengers

If you were a motor vehicle passenger injured in a crash caused by someone else, the personal injury lawyers of Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C. can help. Our team knows how to handle complex cases like yours, including navigating the guest statute.

We understand what it takes to get max compensation and are ready to walk you through your options. We have decades of experience with Alabama’s personal injury laws with a record of success, including over 80 verdicts and settlements of $1 million or more.

Call today at (205) 933-1500 or use our contact form for a free consultation.