Can a Passenger be Held Liable For an Accident?

January 25, 2021 Accident

Can a Passenger be Held Liable For an Accident?

 Here in Louisiana, generally a passenger cannot be held liable for an automobile accident. Thus, if you have been injured as a passenger in a Louisiana automobile accident, you are entitled to sue for compensation. In legal terminology, the reason a passenger cannot generally be held liable is because a driver’s negligence cannot be transferred — imputed — to a passenger. This is because Louisiana courts find it to be unrealistic to hold that a guest passenger has any control or right to control either the automobile or the driver with whom the passenger rides.

For an injured victim to recover compensation from a negligent driver, the victim must prove the four legal elements of negligence — duty, breach of that duty, causation and damages/injury. Generally, a driver’s duty and breach exist and continue to exist without regard to what a guest passenger might do or not do. An illustrative example comes from the case of Robinette v. Old Republic Insurance Company, 229 So.3d 61 (La. Court of Appeal, 3d Cir. 2017). In that case, after picking up his passenger for a lunch date, the driver and the passenger got into a heated argument. Because of the argument, the driver decided to cancel the date and to return his passenger to the garage level where they originally met. As the driver was backing up from the parking garage gate, his car smashed into a vehicle that was behind him on the garage ramp.

The passenger was injured and eventually sued for compensation.

In defending against the lawsuit, the driver argued that the passenger was partially at fault for the accident since, but for the argument, the driver would not have decided to cancel the date, would not have backed up the car and would not have crashed into the other vehicle. Louisiana has a comparative negligence statute that provides that, where more than one party is at fault for an accident, each shall pay or be responsible for their percentage share of the fault. If, for example, the driver was successful in convincing a jury that the passenger was 50% at fault for the accident, then any jury award would be reduced by 50%.

However, the driver was unsuccessful. In Louisiana, all drivers have a duty to be careful and be watchful when driving. Any time a Louisiana driver breaches his or her duty of care and that breach causes injury or property damage, the driver is guilty of negligence. In the Robinette case, the court held that the driver’s duty was not diminished because of the argument with the passenger and was not an independent act of negligence by the passenger.

There ARE some rare circumstances in which a passenger can commit independent acts of negligence that might result in liability. Passengers have a duty of care too — the duty to not interfere with the driver’s operations of the vehicle. In Louisiana, the duty of non-interference typically involves not obstructing a driver’s vision, not physically interfering with the operation of the vehicle, and not urging the driver to take his/her eyes off the road or commit other acts of negligence. None of those factual circumstances existed in the Robinette case, and, as such, the court held that the passenger was not partially at fault for the accident.

Our Attorneys can Help

If you have been the victim of a Louisiana automobile accident as a passenger, contact the Louisiana personal injury attorneys at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick LLC. We have a proven track record of success with many types of personal injury cases. Contact us by calling one of our offices: New Orleans at (504) 500-1108, Baton Rouge at (225) 612-0800, or Lafayette at (337) 409-0003. You can also request a free consultation by using our “Contact Us” page.