Clients often come to me when they have been involved in an automobile, car, truck or boat accident in which they were the passenger.
Liability issues for passengers are a bit different than they are for drivers. Because the person who was injured was not in control of the vehicle, liability questions can arise for both the driver of the vehicle that the client is a passenger in as well as the drivers of other vehicles involved in the accident.
From a legal perspective, if you are in a passenger in an automobile accident and you are injured, the chances of recovering money damages for your injury are good since, in most cases, the accident is going to be the fault of someone else’s negligence.
Here are three scenarios that may raise the question of contributory negligence and therefore may affect the passenger’s ability to recover damages for their injury:
1. If the passenger gets in the vehicle knowing the driver is impaired or under the influence, and that driver thereafter causes a crash that injures the passenger, there may be some question as to whether or not the passenger assumed or accepted some liability for possible injury by getting into the vehicle.
2. If the passenger caused or contributed to the accident by, for example, grabbing the wheel or hitting or striking the driver, this would raise questions that may affect the ability of the passenger to recover.
3. If the passenger was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the injury, this may also raise questions of contributory negligence. Questions may arise regarding the nature and extent of the injury caused by the failure to use a seatbelt. Whether or not a person’s failure to use a seatbelt can be considered by a judge or jury in determining whether or not a plaintiff is entitled to compensation has been a contested issue in the state of Illinois. However, since seatbelt use is mandatory in Illinois, this issue may be of concern and will have to be resolved for those passengers that were not wearing one.
A best practice is for the driver and passenger to obtain separate legal counsel. If the driver and passenger go to one lawyer, it creates a possible conflict. That lawyer can, in theory, represent both parties, but they will have to explain both the actual and potential conflict of interest. If the passenger ends up suing or making a claim against the driver, a conflict arises when both are the client of the same lawyer. These conflicts can be avoided by obtaining separate counsel.
Bottom line, if you are injured as a passenger, the chances of recovering damages for your injury are probably good since, as a passenger, you do not have any control of the vehicle. Questions of contributory negligence, such as those listed above, will be the main obstacle in your recovery should they apply to your situation.