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Can a Passenger Be Liable for a Car Accident? [2023]

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[2023 Update] Can a passenger be liable for a car accident? The answer still remains to be complicated. In general, passengers are not typically held liable for a vehicle accident because they’re not the driver of the vehicle, but there are exceptions. According to the California DMV, passengers, including children and pets, can all be dangerous driving distractions, so it’s important to keep passengers under control at all times when you are driving, which means everyone should be wearing seatbelts and disturbing conversations should be held when the vehicle is not in motion.

[2021 Update] In recent years, little has changed in regard to the question “Can a passenger be liable for a car accident,” and the answer remains a complicated one. Despite lowered traffic in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was found that traffic fatalities were shockingly elevated. According to the Washington Post, the sharp increase is likely due to an increase in reckless driving – something which passengers can often contribute to. Read on below to examine a case from the past where passengers contributed to one such reckless and fatal accident. 

It's questionable as to whether or not a passenger can be held liable for a car accident.

In the early morning hours, four 14-year-old high school freshman decided to sneak out of their homes, steal a parent’s car and go for a joyride in an upscale suburban Chicago neighborhood.  Despite the wet road conditions, the carload of thrill seeking teens thought it would be “cool” to exceed 100 mph.

The young illegal driver, encouraged by his passengers, increased the speed along the curvy, wet road and as the boys egged him on, urging him to drive faster and faster. The inexperienced, unlicensed driver lost control of the car.

Once control was lost, the car flew off the road, over the curb and crashed through the garage of a home. Three of the boys were wearing seat belts; the one passenger who was not wearing a seat belt died in the accident. The driver was arrested and charged in his friend’s death.

Liability in a Single-Car Accident

In most single-car auto accidents, including when someone is a Lyft or Uber car accident passenger, liability rests solely on the driver. After all, the driver is in control of the car and takes full responsibility of driving, following the “Rules of Road.” If a driver operates his or her car in a reckless way and causes an accident, how can that be the fault of anyone but the driver?

Comparative Negligence

If a court finds that such a conspiracy existed, the result might be that instead of just the driver facing criminal liability in the death of the passenger, all three of the other teens would also face criminal charges. As for civil liability, the family of the deceased teen could file a civil wrongful death lawsuit against all three surviving boys. On the other hand, the driver could argue that the boy who died contributed to the accident that led to his death by encouraging the driver to speed and by failing to wear a seat belt. As a result, any financial award to the deceased teen’s family would be reduced based on the boy’s comparative negligence.

Should Teens Be Held More Accountable?

Based on the laws and precedent in the relevant jurisdiction, an argument under a conspiracy theory or a defense based on comparative negligence may ultimately have no impact on civil or criminal liability under the circumstance of this case or similar cases. However, teen joyriding is a common problem, as are car accidents caused by both unlicensed and licensed teens.

If you or someone you love has been injured in any type of autonomous car accidents due to the negligence of someone else, Avrek Law may be able to help. Our attorneys have recovered more than $1 Billion for clients over the course of more than 45,000 cases. Contact us or fill out a form for a free case evaluation – we’re here to help!

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