As a passenger riding in a vehicle that crashes, you need to know about the Alabama Guest Statute. You might have serious injuries that require medical attention and take you out of work for a few weeks, or post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks of the crash haunting you. Is someone liable for these damages? After all, you weren’t driving; the accident wasn’t your fault. You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. As a guest in someone else’s car in Alabama, your options depend upon the circumstances. Unfortunately, something called the “Alabama Guest Statute” significantly limits the rights of certain vehicle passengers to hold drivers liable for injuries.
Defining “Guest” in the Alabama Statute
First and foremost, recognize whether you were a guest in someone’s vehicle or a passenger. According to Alabama law, a “guest” is someone the driver is transporting without payment. The guest in the vehicle is simply someone riding with the driver, such as a friend or family member. If the guest has paid the driver, such as in a taxi or rideshare situation, he or she is a passenger. This distinction is important since passengers have very different rights than guests in Alabama. Passengers the driver transports for hire generally have greater opportunities for compensation through the company’s insurance policy – opportunities a guest does not have.
It’s not always easy to determine whether a person was a guest or passenger of the driver. A variety of factors could affect the official classification of a vehicle passenger. For example, if the driver tricked or coerced a guest into getting into the vehicle, the guest might still have the opportunity to file a lawsuit after a crash. The driver must have the guest’s consent to be in the vehicle for the Guest Statute to apply. Falsely inducing a guest or driving him/her somewhere the guest did not consent to go could make the guest a passenger instead. It may take a careful investigation of the crash to identify whether someone was a guest or passenger.
Provisions of the Alabama Guest Statute
If you do classify as a guest in a car accident, Alabama’s arguably outdated (it passed in 1935) Guest Statute limits your ability to seek damage recovery from the owner or operator of the vehicle. Unlike most car accident victims, it will not be enough to prove the driver’s negligence to get compensation. Instead, guests bear a greater burden of proof. They must show that the driver was guilty of “willful or wanton misconduct” to qualify for financial recovery through the driver’s insurer – a much greater offense.
Willful or wanton misconduct goes beyond an action that a reasonable and prudent person would not talk and into the realm of recklessness. Examples include driving drunk, driving way over the speed limit, or racing a vehicle. Any action that the courts deem greater than mere negligence could qualify as “willful and wanton” conduct. It may take evidence such as the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, phone records, a history of reckless driving, or eyewitness accounts to help a guest prove that the driver was acting recklessly at the time of the crash.
Alabama’s Guest Statute doesn’t apply to claims involving negligent supervision. In other words, if the driver was an adult who was guilty of negligently failing to supervise a minor child, the driver may fail to avoid liability through the Guest Statute. The adult in this scenario could still be liable for the guest’s injuries on the grounds of negligent supervision or entrustment. To fully understand the provisions of the Alabama Guest Statute, you will need to talk to an attorney. Hiring a lawyer can help you fight for damage recovery as an injured passenger in someone else’s vehicle.