Although most personal injury lawsuits arising from automobile accidents are typically brought against the operator of the vehicle, there are instances where the accident is caused by the passenger and they are sued for all injuries. In actions to recover from a passenger in a motor vehicle for personal injury or death caused by the passenger's negligence, the injured party has to prove the traditional elements found in all negligence cases: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

What Actions Can Make a Passenger Liable?

Where a person injured in a motor vehicle accident seeks to hold a passenger in one of the involved vehicles liable for the injury, there are a number of approaches, including:

  • Negligence by a passenger occurring prior to becoming a passenger in the vehicle:The passenger may be liable, for instance, for having provided alcoholic beverages or other intoxicants to an occupant of the vehicle prior to the use of the vehicle.
  • Passenger is vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver of the vehicle: In order to establish vicarious liability, the injured party must show that the driver was negligent in the operation of the vehicle and that there existed, between the driver and the passenger, a relationship such that the driver's negligence may be imputed to the passenger. An example would be if the passenger told the driver it was safe to back their vehicle out of a driveway, when actually another vehicle was approaching and caused an accident.   
  • Negligent entrustment of the vehicle by the passenger to the driver: An action for negligent entrustment arises when the owner of a motor vehicle entrusts it to someone the owner knows to be incapable of using the vehicle properly and a third person is injured by the vehicle.

Do I Need an Attorney?

A personal injury attorney will know the laws governing passenger liability and help you file a lawsuit.  You may also wish to retain an attorney if your passenger is suing you and you believe that he is responsible for the injury or there is an automobile guest statute prohibiting him from suing you as the driver.