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Can Passengers Be Liable for Car Accidents?

Published on Mar 16, 2021 by Thomas Law Offices.

Car Accident Lawyer

If you’re involved in an accident and believe someone else caused the accident, you most likely assume the other driver’s actions caused the collision. This is often the case in instances of speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. The driver, however, isn’t always at fault. There are instances where the vehicle manufacturer or auto parts manufacturer could be held accountable in the event the vehicle fails in some way. But, what about the passenger? Can a passenger ever be liable for a car accident? The answer to the question is complex. In order to understand if and when that is possible, let’s start by taking a look at the duty of a passenger.

The Duty of a Passenger

In most instances, a passenger cannot be held liable for an accident. The passenger is simply the person who is riding in the care while someone else is driving. Certain actions the passenger take, however, can have an impact on a car accident claim—particularly if that passenger is found to have behaved in a manner that caused the crash.

For example, if a person knowingly and willingly enter a vehicle with a driver who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the passenger legally has nonverbally consented to the risks to their safety. Other examples include distracted, fatigued, or reckless driving, as well as speeding.

While there is no such thing as direct passenger negligence, there could be a situation where a passenger forcibly reaches for the wheel. If that happens, it’s possible and passenger could be considered the driver once their hands are on the wheel. As such, they may be able to be held responsible for any resulting injuries.

Passengers and Distracted Driving

Regardless of what is going on in a vehicle, drivers are ultimately responsible for their actions behind the wheel. This means that even if a baby is crying or a passenger is singing loudly or being argumentative, the driver needs to take the proper steps to ensure they do not cause an accident. If they do, they can be held legally accountable for the consequences.

With the number of distracted driving accidents that occur every year, police and government agencies are constantly looking for way to reduce distractions on the road. Because of that, it’s possible there could be a degree of liability for a passenger in a distracted driving accident.

Passengers have a responsibility, albeit not a legal obligation, to be considerate of the safety of the driver, others in the vehicles, and other vehicles on the road. Detracting from the driver’s attention by taking photos, shouting, or hitting the driver, could make the passenger partially liable for any resulting injuries in a crash.

Understanding Concert-of-Action

With all car accident claims, it’s imperative to establish negligence. That is the only way a victim can receive compensation for their injuries. Depending on the circumstances, it could be fairly easy or challenging to prove liability, which involves establishing a duty of care was owed, that duty was breached, injuries resulted, and those injuries caused financial losses.

For a court to find a passenger partially liable for an accident, the legal theory of concert-of-action would need to come into play. A concert-of-action is when a person’s actions directly cause someone else harm.

With a passenger liability situation, it would need to be proven that the passenger provoked the driver to behave in a dangerous way like driving over the speed limit, racing, or looking at a photo or video. If those actions cause an accident, it could be reasonable to believe that the passenger’s actions, in part, contributed to what happened.

Proving concert-of-action isn’t easy, nor is collecting the evidence to prove that theory plays a role in your claim. It’s imperative to work with an experienced attorney who understands the ins and the outs of the law, so you can make the best decisions possible for your claim.

Contact Thomas Law Offices

No matter who was at fault for your crash, it’s important to understand your legal rights and options. In most instances any passenger is not going to be held accountable for a crash, but in the rare event the passenger and driver can be held accountable for what you’ve been through, your lawyer from Thomas Law Offices will evaluate your situations and collect the evidence needed to pursue a strong claim.

The sooner you get in touch with our attorneys, the more likely you are to recover full and fair compensation. To learn more about the process or to determine if you have a valid claim, schedule a free case evaluation with a car accident lawyer in Chicago.


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Meet Our Founder

Tad Thomas - Trial Lawyer

Tad Thomas

Managing Partner

Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

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