What Liability Do I Have as a Passenger?
If you’re a passenger in a car, you usually do not have liability for the damages that might ensue from an accident. The reason is simple: the driver is in control of the car, not you. There are, however, some circumstances under which you could be liable as a passenger:
- You interfere with the driver’s operation of the vehicle
- You provide intoxicants to the driver
- You and the driver are jointly negligent
- You are the driver’s employer
- You own the car and the driver is obviously incapable of driving safely
Passenger Interference with Driver
If you interfere with the driver’s operation of the vehicle to such an extent that it causes an accident, you could be held liable. Grabbing the wheel or otherwise taking physical control of the vehicle would make you responsible for any resulting damage. Even indirect interference, such as diverting the driver’s attention, obstructing the view, or telling the driver to pull out of a driveway in front of an oncoming car could make you liable.
If you provide intoxicants to the driver, you are interfering with his or her operation of the vehicle. Yet your risk of being held liable is actually small. Unless you intoxicate the driver against his or her will, the driver will remain primarily responsible for being intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Shared Responsibility of Passenger and Driver
Both the driver and the passenger might share the responsibility for an accident if they are engaged in a joint venture. A court would look at whether you and the driver are by agreement using the vehicle for a common purpose in which you both have a financial interest and over which you have equal control.
But unless your common purpose is negligent or criminal, it is unlikely for you both to be liable. For example, Illinois courts have used the joint venture theory to make all participants, including passengers in other cars, responsible in case of high-speed driving or street racing. Even if you are egging the driver on to drive fast, you could be responsible for what happens next.
The Passenger is the Vehicle’s Owner or Driver’s Boss
If you own a vehicle and someone causes damage or injuries with it, you could be responsible if you negligently entrusted the vehicle to the driver. For example, if you were aware the driver was underage, intoxicated, or otherwise incapable of driving safely and you let them drive anyway, you would be liable in the event of an accident.
If you’re a business owner and one of your employees causes an accident, you could be liable for the damages. Here, as in the case of negligent entrustment, it doesn’t matter if you’re a passenger or not.
In fact, you will almost never be liable for an accident simply by virtue of being a passenger. What matters are your potentially negligent actions, your relationship with the driver, or your ownership of the vehicle.