Can I File a Claim if My Passenger Causes a Car Accident?

Can I File a Claim if My Passenger Causes a Car Accident?As a driver in Texas, you are responsible for your own actions. You are required to keep your focus on the road and hands on the steering wheel the entire time. You’re legally not allowed to drive while intoxicated or drunk. You’re legally required to follow the speed limit. If you are injured in a car accident that was caused by another person’s negligence, Texas law allows you to seek damages for your injuries. This is true whether you were driving the vehicle or rising along as a passenger.

But what happens if the negligent party is a passenger in your vehicle? A 2018 analysis published in the Journal of Safety Research found “that driver interaction with passengers causes a non-negligible proportion of road crashes, namely 3.55% of crashes regardless of the age of the passengers and 3.85% when child and teen passengers are excluded.”

In general, passengers do not owe a duty of care to anyone, and therefore cannot be held liable in the event of a crash. However, there are some circumstances where a negligent or reckless passenger can be named as an at-fault party. Passengers may share some or full responsibility for a car accident if:

  • They obstructed the driver’s view. Passengers who make it impossible for a driver to see, either by blocking the driver’s eyes or putting something in front of the driver to block the window, could be held liable for a collision.
  • They engaged in a physical altercation. If a passenger hits a driver, or even hits another passenger and it startles the driver, that passenger may be liable for the crash and any resulting injuries.
  • They grabbed the wheel. Any action the passenger takes to control the car – like grabbing the wheel or attempting to press the gas or brake – can make a passenger liable for a crash and injuries.
  • They encouraged bar behavior. A passenger who eggs on the driver to speed or drive recklessly, or to engage in dangerous and/or illegal behaviors (like drinking or taking drugs) could be found partially liable in the event of a crash.

Note that in each of these cases, the actions (or inactions) of a passenger may bar that passenger from seeking compensation, under Texas’ contributory negligence laws. For example, if a person knowingly accepts a ride from an intoxicated driver and that driver causes a crash, the passenger may be seen as having contributed to his or her own injuries.

What if a passenger distracts a driver?

Possibly. Generally speaking, drivers are responsible for their own behavior. A driver who willingly engages in a distracting activity, like taking a photo or a video, is more likely to be solely liable for a crash. The same is true for the driver who turns around to address an unruly child or pet.

If the passenger engages in other types of reckless behavior, however, then you may have a stronger claim for liability against them. For example, if you are driving at night and a passenger takes a photo of you with the flash on, or shines a flashlight in your face while you are driving, and this distraction/impediment causes you to swerve into another lane, the passenger may be at least partially liable for any resulting crash and injuries.

What if the passenger is a child or a pet?

Assume that you cannot hold a child or a pet liable for a crash under any circumstances – but do not assume that there is not another liable party. For example, if your child was able to unlock a door when the child safety locks were supposedly engaged, or if your pet’s carrier is defective, then there may be a third party claim there.

How does an injury claim work if a passenger caused the crash?

If you are a passenger in a vehicle and another passenger causes a crash, you may be able to file a claim against both that passenger and the driver.

If you are a driver who was injured in a car accident due to your passenger’s negligence, you may be able to make a claim against the passenger’s insurance policy, but again – it would depend on the circumstances. There is also a chance you would have to sue your passenger personally to recoup any damages.

In either scenario, however, you should call a lawyer immediately. This will likely be a challenging claim to pursue, and you’re going to want help.

Note: in the event of an auto accident that causes you injury, you can use your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage to take care of any immediate needs. PIP coverage is optional, but it can help you pay for medical care and even wage loss. However, the nature of PIP means that a passenger may be able to claim those benefits, too – even if the passenger is the one who caused the crash. We can talk more about these options during your free consultation.

How to be a better passenger while traveling in San Antonio

Whether you’re the co-pilot, the “DJ” for the trip, or simply grabbing a ride with a friend, you want to be the best passenger possible. When someone else is behind the wheel, here’s what you can do:

  1. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t “jokingly” try to grab the wheel or cover up a driver’s eyes; it’s unsafe for everyone.
  2. Make sure all other passengers (including you and any pets) are secured. Seat belts save lives, and the driver may not notice if someone removes their seat belt.
  3. Avoid distracting the driver. If you’re in charge of the map or the GPS, try to give as much notice as possible about upcoming turns, potential roadwork, or other road issues.
  4. Don’t let an unsafe driver get behind the wheel. If you’ve both been drinking, are too tired to drive, or are in any way impaired, call a car or a designated driver.

The Law Offices of Pat Maloney has been helping car accident victims in San Antonio for more than seven decades. Injury lawyer Pat Maloney, Jr. will answer any of your questions and concerns as well as investigate and determine the direct cause of your accident. If you believe a passenger directly caused or affected your accident, please call our office or submit our contact form today, and we will look into the facts and circumstances.