LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Jon Ethan Lewis | Apr 8, 2010

Alabama Car Accident - When you are a Guest Passenger.

Alabama has a guest passenger law which prevents a passenger from suing the driver of a car for simple negligence. The Code section is § 32-1-2, and it reads as follows:

The owner, operator or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle shall not be liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or death of a guest while being transported without payment therefor in or upon said motor vehicle, resulting from the operation thereof, unless such injuries or death are caused by the willful or wanton misconduct of such operator, owner or person responsible for the operation of said motor vehicle.

Consequently, unless the passenger pays the driver for gas or to take her to her destination, the passenger cannot recover unless the passenger can show that the driver was driving willfully or wantonly. What does that mean? Well, merely speeding is not willful or wanton. However, if a driver is speeding, running a red light, and weaving in and out of traffic, that would probably be considered willful and wanton.

Another issue is the term "guest". Because the statute does not define the term "guest," we turn to case law for a definition. The case law states as follows:

"The general rule is that if the transportation of a rider confers a benefit only on the person to whom the ride is given, and no benefits other than such as are incidental to hospitality, goodwill or the like, on the person furnishing the transportation, the rider is a guest; but if his carriage tends to promote the mutual interest of both himself and [the] driver for their common benefit, thus creating a joint business relationship between the motorist and his rider, or where the rider accompanies the driver at the instance of the latter for the purpose of having the rider render a benefit or service to the driver on a trip which is primarily for the attainment of some objective of the driver, the rider is a passenger and not a guest."

Cash v. Caldwell, 603 So.2d 1001, 1003 (Ala.1992) (quoting Wagnon v. Patterson, 260 Ala. 297, 303, 70 So.2d 244, 249 (1954), quoting in turn Hasbrook v. Wingate, 152 Ohio St. 50, 56-57, 87 N.E.2d 87, 91 (1949)).

Therefore, you may still be able to get around the definition of being a guest if you can show that the driver benefited in some way by giving you a ride. Otherwise, you will not be able to make a recovery from the driver for simple negligence (running a red light, speeding, etc. - the combination of two or more might, however, lead to wantonness).

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