Let’s face it: Floridians aren’t known to be the best drivers in the country (of course, the fact that we share our beautiful state with nearly one million snowbirds a few months out of the year certainly doesn’t help the roadways). And accidents happen.
In fact, the Sunshine State is third after California and Texas when it comes to automobile fatalities, with another 395,000 accidents involving personal injury reported in 2016 alone. So if you’ve been unfortunate enough to have been involved in a car accident, you’re certainly not alone.
But what happens if a passenger traveling with you is injured? Who is at fault? While the short answer is to say one or both of the drivers is to blame, it's not always that cut and dry.
The Guest Statute
You may have heard of a little something called "the guest statute." That's because there was a time when some states, including Florida, followed a one. The statute stated that a passenger could not seek damages if they were injured due to a driver’s “ordinary negligence.” Instead, the driver had to be guilty of engaging in an activity he or she knew to be very dangerous, or “grossly negligent” (i.e., driving drunk, street racing, excessive speeding, operating a vehicle known to be unreliable).
Today, no such guest statute exists in Florida, and the driver assumes responsibility for passengers. The expectation is that the driver will show good judgement, drive defensively, and avoid situations that could result in injury.
The Blame Game
If an accident occurs, it could play out like any other driver-only accident. Findings could reveal that you or the other driver are at fault, or that you both share some of the blame. Road and weather conditions could also factor in to the findings. Whatever the scenario, the passenger does have the ability to make a claim against any of the following people or entities:
However, the onus doesn’t always fall upon drivers. In fact, you may not be at fault at all. Drivers are protected from the negligence of passengers if it is determined that the passenger failed to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for their own safety. Some examples include:
Distracting the driver or taking hold of the wheel
Refusing to put on or removing their seatbelt
Failure to warn the driver of impending danger that only the passenger is privy to (see Roos v. Morrison)
Additionally, a passenger who chooses to get into a vehicle with a drunk or impaired driver may also have a difficult time seeking damages; it can be argued that he or she did not exercise proper care for themselves, and knowingly got into a dangerous situation.
The Family and Friend Factor
Unless you’re in the habit of giving rides to strangers, it’s likely that your passenger will be a friend or a family member; don’t let a collision derail this relationship. It’s important to remember not take it personally if a friend or loved one files a claim against your insurance company; after all, they’ve been injured and deserve compensation. Hopefully, they would be just as understanding if the shoe was on the other foot. And think about it: at most, your rates may increase—which is likely to happen with or without their claim attached.
If you’ve been involved in an accident, especially one involving injury, it’s always best consult with an experienced Florida auto accident attorney. Contact Lowman Law Firm today for a free consultation and download the free eBook 20 Questions to Ask When You Have Been in an Accident.