Passenger Injury Claims in Alabama

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Passenger injury claims are a little bit different in Alabama than they are in other states. Not all motor vehicle passengers can recover compensation for a car accident in Alabama.

The law is the Alabama Guest Statute – Liability for Injury or Death of Guest. It applies only in certain circumstances. Passengers hurt in car accidents can still claim compensation in many cases.

Our Mobile, AL car accident attorneys at Stevenson Klotz Injury Lawyers explain passenger injury claims in Alabama and what you need to know about your case.

What is the Alabama Guest Statute?

Ala. Code § 32-1-2 is the Alabama guest statute. The law limits liability of a vehicle owner, operator or party responsible for vehicle operation for the injury or death of a guest riding in the vehicle. The law applies if the driver is at fault for the accident, and not in situations where another driver or third party is at fault.

What is the guest passenger law in Alabama?

The guest passenger law in Alabama prevents guests from collecting compensation if the driver, owner or other responsible party is at fault for negligence causing injuries or death. Ala. Code § 32-1-2 applies only when the party at fault is connected to the vehicle the passenger is riding in.

Understanding Passenger Injury Compensation in Alabama

  • There is a particular Alabama law that applies just to passengers who are injured in car accidents.
  • For the law to apply, the passenger must be a guest. While the term guest isn’t defined, it’s a person transported without benefit to the driver.
  • There are numerous exceptions including when a driver engages in willful or wanton conduct, when there is mutual benefit and for minors.
  • If someone other than the driver or vehicle owner is at fault, like another driver or third party, the passenger can claim compensation. In that case, the law doesn’t apply.
  • Whether the guest passenger law applies is a question of fact that depends on the situation.

The Alabama Guest Passenger Statute

The Alabama guest passenger statute states that a passenger, riding in someone else’s vehicle, can’t claim compensation from the vehicle owner, operator or other party responsible for the vehicle if they are a guest. This means that they are transported without payment or benefit to the driver unless injury or death is the result of the responsible party’s wilful or wanton conduct.

The Alabama guest passenger statute applies when someone uses their vehicle to give someone else a ride without getting anything in return. For example, a person gives their elderly neighbor a ride to the grocery store. The neighbor doesn’t pay. In this scenario, the neighbor offering the ride is shielded from liability.

Who is a guest under the Alabama guest passenger statute?

Under the Alabama guest passenger statute, there is a distinction between guests and passengers. A guest is someone who receives the ride only for their benefit. When the ride is for mutual benefit, like to pay or to help the driver, the rider is a passenger. A guest can’t claim compensation if they’re hurt by the driver or owner’s negligence, but a passenger can make a claim.

People who may be guests under the Alabama guest passenger statute include:

  • Family members
  • Neighbors
  • Hitchhikers
  • Friends
  • Community members
  • Coworkers, carpools

What the parties were doing and for what reason may be central to whether the victim may fully recover for their damages or if their claim is barred.

Exceptions to the Alabama Passenger Injury Law

The Alabama passenger injury law excludes an entire category of victims from receiving compensation for car accidents. However, there are several exceptions.

Exceptions to the Alabama passenger injury law include:

Mutual benefit

If the driver receives some kind of benefit for giving the ride, the rider isn’t a guest. Rather, they are a passenger. Examples are accepting pay, when there is a mutual business interest or when the rider is helping the driver.

Wilful and wanton misconduct

The law protects the driver only from negligence. It doesn’t apply to wilful or wanton misconduct. Wilful and wanton conduct is an act or failure to act that consciously disregards a high risk of harm.

Other parties at fault

If the other vehicle driver is at fault for the injury, the guest law is inapplicable. Someone riding in a car may sue any third party for legal fault.

Protesting the driver’s behavior

If there is evidence that the rider protested the driver’s behavior, their protest may invalidate the law. A protest may include telling the driver to stop driving dangerously or asking them to stop the vehicle.

Shared business interest

When the driver and rider have a shared business interest, the law may not apply.

Minor children

Minors can’t consent to being guests in a vehicle.

If one of these exceptions applies, you may claim financial compensation like any other accident victim, by providing liability, causation and your damages.

Case law interpreting the Alabama guest passenger law

Commonly litigated questions relating to the Alabama passenger guest law are whether the rider is a guest and whether the driver’s actions were wilful or wanton. Because these questions are so fact-specific, there is a large body of existing case law.

Wagnon v Patterson, 260 Ala. 297 (1954) (nominal payment doesn’t necessarily make someone a passenger).

Klaber v. Elliott, 533 So. 2d 576 (Ala. 1998) (occasionally contributing to gas isn’t a mutual benefit).

Cash v. Caldwell, 603 So.2d 1001 (Ala. 1992) (whether caring for an ailing mother is a mutual interest is a fact question).

Martinson v. Cagle, 454 So.2d 1383 (1984) (a business venture is a community of interest with a common purpose).

Does the guest passenger law in Alabama apply to Uber and Lyft rides?

No. Because Uber and Lyft are hire services, a rider is a passenger. If the rideshare driver is at fault for an accident, the victim may seek compensation.

Injured as a Passenger in a Car Accident?

You may have the right to compensation. Our Mobile, AL car accident lawyers handle passenger injury claims. To reach out to Stevenson Klotz Injury Lawyers online, use our convenient online form. Or, you can talk about your case by phone at 850-444-0000.

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