There are two different legal theories in terms of automobile driver liability:
Guest Passenger Statutes:
Some states enforce "automobile guest statutes" that prohibit car passengers from suing the driver for injuries suffered in an accident. Guest statutes only apply to non-paying passengers, so these laws do not apply to passengers in taxis, buses, or other public transit.
These laws refer to paying passengers on a common carrier or public transportation. In special circumstances the common carrier can avoid liability, but for the most part, they have a duty of safety to its passengers.
Are Passengers in a Carpool or Share-the-Ride Automobile "Guests?"
There is no general rule regarding automobile passengers in a share-the-ride or carpool arrangement. These passengers fall somewhere between automobile "guests" and paying passengers. Courts commonly analyze the circumstances of each case to determine the passenger status. These factors include:
Purpose of Arrangement:
Courts have held that if the purpose of having the carpool is social or the driver wants to assist the passenger then the passenger may be regarded as a guest. However, if the motivation of the arrangement is the material benefit of the parties, passengers may not be held as guests.
Courts have taken the existence of a formal agreement for transportation as a factor in deciding whether the passenger in a carpool is a guest under "guest" statutes. Courts have been inconclusive as to whether an enforceable contract between the parties is necessary to prohibit passengers from suing the driver.
Generally, when passengers pay a monetary fee, "guest" statutes are not applicable. However, compensation does not have to be in the form of cash or an equivalent. Reciprocal transportation has been found to be adequate compensation to hold passengers as non-"guests."
Relationship between the Parties:
A close relationship between the parties, separate from the carpool or share-the-ride arrangement, tends to show that the passenger was a guest.
Should I Seek an Attorney If I've Been Injured in a Car Accident?
An experienced personal injury attorney would be most beneficial in any personal injury case. There are many complex issues that an attorney can help resolve, and an attorney will ensure that your rights and interests are protected.