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Are Passengers Ever Liable For Car Accidents?

June 10, 2021

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Imagine this. You are driving down the road headed for a night out with your friends. On the way to your destination, one friend turns the music up really loud and they all start singing along. Perhaps even one friend grabs the wheel. Soon after, you get into an accident. After determining that everyone is okay, you may start to wonder whether your friends are liable. They were distracting you and if you could have focused properly on the road, you would have avoided the accident.

This is a scenario people find themselves in every day. So, if you got into an accident, can you hold your passengers liable? Unfortunately, most of the time, you cannot. The only exception to this is if they actively interfered with your ability to control the vehicle.

The Duty of Drivers in Pennsylvania

All drivers in Pennsylvania have a responsibility to control their vehicle at all times. This means they must operate it in a safe manner, and also that they are responsible for what is occurring inside their vehicle. If they cannot control their vehicle, a driver is expected to pull over or not head out onto the roads at all.

For example, if a driver was heading down the highway when a massive snowstorm hit and the driver thought it was too dangerous to drive, it is their responsibility to get off the road until they feel the conditions improve. The same holds true for passengers.

If passengers are being a distraction or otherwise making it difficult for a driver to properly control their vehicle, the driver must pull over and wait until the passengers are no longer a distraction. If they do not and they get into an accident, they can still be held liable for paying damages. Still, there are some factors that can affect liability.

Comparative Negligence Affects Liability

While passenger liability generally does not exist in car accident cases, there are times when a passenger’s own fault can affect a claim. If a passenger is hurt, they can generally claim damages from the liable driver, even the driver of the vehicle they were in at the time. However, when a passenger’s own negligence contributed to the cause of the crash, any damages they are awarded may be reduced under the comparative negligence laws of the state.

When Passengers are Considered Drivers

There are times when passengers can be held liable for a crash and that is when they are considered drivers. While this does happen, it is in very limited situations. For a passenger to be considered a driver, they must have had actual control of the vehicle. For example, if a passenger in the front seat jokingly placed their hands on the steering wheel and an accident occurred at the same time, they could be held liable for paying damages.

Our Car Accident Lawyers in Pennsylvania Can Help with Complex Cases

Car accident cases are never straightforward, and that holds even more true when passengers may or may not share liability. If you have been in a crash, our Allentown auto accident lawyers are here to assist with your case. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our seasoned attorneys know how to conduct investigations to prove liability to give you the best chance of success with your case. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about how we can help.



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