Can a passenger be liable for a car accident? A passenger generally won’t be deemed at fault for a traffic accident. However, there may be circumstances, such as directly interfering with the controls of the car or the driver, where a passenger is directly responsible for causing an accident. In such circumstances, the passenger will be liable for the passenger-caused car accident in Nevada.
A passenger has a responsibility to uphold a duty of care, and therefore to ensure his or her safety and refrain from causing hazardous conditions for the driver. Just because a passenger is not directly in control of the car does not mean he or she can put other occupants, motorists, or pedestrians in danger.
In an accident, the circumstances will determine whether the passenger is at fault. It is important to understand how passengers can cause accidents, how liability is established, and any legal consequences that may follow.
Can a Passenger Be Held Liable for a Car Accident?
Determining who is liable for a car accident is a matter of establishing who is at fault for the accident.
What Is Fault?
Tort in civil law is a person’s wrongful act, negligence, or omission that results in injury or damage to another person. Fault is the allocation of responsibility or blame for actions or omissions.
In civil law, fault is associated with liability for harm or damage caused to another person or his or her property. To establish liability, it is necessary to prove that the person who caused the harm was at fault, either through negligence or intentional wrongdoing. This is the case if a person owes a duty of care towards another person, and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to that person, which a reasonable person would foresee as putting the other person at risk. If the defendant’s conduct falls below the standard of care required, he or she is in breach of a duty owed to the other person.
The importance of fault in civil law lies in awarding damages or compensation. If fault can be established, the person who caused the harm may be required to compensate the victim for his or her losses, such as medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. Without fault, it would be difficult to determine who is responsible for the harm and hold them accountable.
To establish fault, there are elements that have to be proven:
- Duty of care, where a legal duty is owed by one person to another.
- Breach of the duty of care, where the responsible person fails to meet the standards of conduct required by this duty of care.
- Causation, where the breach of the duty of care led to an accident, or the other person suffering harm or injuries.
- Damages, where the other person suffered actual damages in the form of financial or other loss.
Can a Passenger Be at Fault?
A passenger can be at fault if the four elements of fault are proven.
Duty of Care. A driver automatically owes a duty of care towards all other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists due to driving behind the wheel. As the person behind the wheel, it is the driver’s responsibility to operate the vehicle safely. This includes following traffic laws, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles, and maintaining awareness of his or her surroundings.
A passenger owes a duty of care towards the driver to allow him or her to operate the car safely, for his or her own well-being as well as for others on the road. It is vital to avoid creating dangerous or distracting situations that may cause the driver to get into an accident. By doing so, you are helping the driver stay focused on the road and ensuring the safety of everyone on the road.
Breach of duty. A driver has a duty to focus on driving the vehicle safely. He or she should stay focused and avoid anything that could distract him or her from driving attentively. Even if a passenger starts behaving erratically, it is still the driver’s responsibility to operate the vehicle safely. In such situations, the driver should pull over to the side of the road to prevent a collision. If an accident occurs, when the driver could have stopped the vehicle, he or she may be considered to have breached his or her duty of care.
There may be instances where it is impossible to disregard the actions of a passenger and prevent a car accident. These may involve a passenger taking hold of the steering wheel, opening a car door, interfering with the gas or brake pedals, or blocking the driver’s line of sight while the vehicle is in motion.
If the driver could have ignored the passenger’s behavior and failed to do so, both the driver and passenger may have failed to fulfill the duty of care, and therefore share responsibility. However, in certain situations, it may not be feasible to disregard the passenger’s actions or prevent an accident, in which case only the passenger may have failed in his or her duty of care. Proving liability in these instances can be challenging without the guidance of a motor vehicle accident lawyer, especially when it comes down to your word versus that of the only other passenger in the vehicle.
Causation. For a passenger to be at fault in an accident, his or her actions must have directly caused it. For example, if a passenger obstructs the driver’s view, but the driver is still able to stop the car without incident, there is no accident and therefore no fault. However, if the driver’s vision is obstructed and he or she ends up hitting a tree or another car, and another driver who witnessed the accident is distracted and causes a subsequent accident, the fault lies with the second driver’s lack of attention, not the passenger’s conduct. Therefore, the passenger cannot be held responsible for the accident.
Damages. For a passenger to be considered at fault and responsible, there must be some kind of damage or loss. Without any loss, there is no basis for any other party to make a claim, and therefore no liability. Damages can include both monetary and non-monetary losses. The damages available under Nevada law depend on the specifics of the accident. They generally cover lost wages, loss of future income or earning capacity, medical expenses, and future medical costs related to the accident, such as physical therapy or joint-replacement procedures. Additionally, compensation for pain and suffering may also be included.
If a passenger contributes to a car accident, he or she may be liable for any damages caused. Usually, it is assumed that the driver acted negligently when a car crash happened, such as by tailgating, texting while driving, or speeding. A passive passenger is never held liable, since he or she cannot be responsible for a vehicle he or she does not control.
Did the Passenger’s Negligent Actions Contribute to His or Her Injuries?
While there are very few instances in which a passenger is directly at fault for a car accident, it is more common for a passenger to share fault in some way, contributing to his or her injuries. This is a legal principle known as comparative negligence.
When comparative negligence is at play, fault is assigned to each involved party. This then leads to a reduction of the plaintiff’s claim, depending on the percentage of his or her fault in the accident. In Nevada, victims can still claim some damages even if they share some blame, as long as their fault is not more than 50%. However, if their fault is found to be over 50%, they cannot seek damages.
If partial fault is found, the damages that can be recovered will be lessened by the percentage of fault. For example, if the fault was found to be 20%, the victim can only recover 80% of the damages. So, if the total damages amounted to $100,000, the victim can only recover $80,000. According to Nevada law, the 20% represents the victim’s share of the blame. The total damages should be calculated and then reduced by the percentage of the victim’s fault.
Passengers can engage in behaviors that may divert the driver’s attention from the road, resulting in car accidents. Studies reveal that passenger interactions can slow the driver’s reflexes, and reaction time, and increase the severity of crashes and injuries. Some passenger behaviors that could distract the driver include:
- arguing or fighting
- obstructing the driver’s view
- taking pictures or videos of the driver
- showing text messages or social media posts
- tampering with the stereo, navigation system or other electronic devices
- provoking the driver to drive recklessly
A passenger may also be considered negligent if he or she fails to wear a seatbelt, or take other safety measures to minimize the potential of suffering harm in the event of an accident.
How to Prove Fault in a Nevada Car Accident
If you have been in a motor vehicle accident in Nevada, you will have to prove that another person was at fault to make a successful passenger personal injury claim. To prove fault, you will have to provide evidence showing the wrongful or negligent conduct of that individual. There are several steps that you can take to gather evidence and prove fault:
Call Law Enforcement
If someone has been injured in an auto accident in Nevada, state law requires that the police be notified right away. Once you have reached safety, call 911 so that the police and EMS can respond immediately. When the police arrive at the scene, they may generate a report that includes details of the accident, contact information for witnesses, and insurance information for the other driver. It is common for lawyers to use the police report as a starting point in their case. Additionally, the police may ask for your statement, so it is important to provide as much factual information as you can since memories can fade quickly and the police report may serve as important evidence later on.
Seek Medical Attention
It is essential to seek medical attention after a car accident, even if you feel fine. There are medical problems, like traumatic brain injuries and soft-tissue damage, that may not show up until days or even weeks after the accident. The adrenaline rush you experience after the accident can also hide the pain of any injuries. By seeing a doctor, you will also be creating a record of your injuries, which can be useful evidence of both your injuries and damages.
If you can, take photos of the scene right after the crash and capture video of the damage. This will help in settling future legal claims. It becomes harder to prove what occurred once the crash site has been cleared.
It is also essential to take photos of any visible injuries you have sustained. Bruises, scrapes, and other injuries can quickly disappear. Having photographic evidence of your physical injuries will strengthen your case for damages.
Collect Witness Information
Having more witnesses to support your car accident claim can strengthen your case by corroborating your story.
If you plan to recover compensation for any losses incurred as a result of an accident, such as medical expenses, property damage, or lost wages, it’s crucial to keep track of your losses. This involves keeping a record of your medical bills, medical records, communications from your employer, and any relevant photos or videos. These documents can be extremely useful when negotiating with the at-fault driver or his or her insurance company.
Contact a Lawyer
An attorney can let you know the dos and don’ts after a car accident. Working with an attorney can ensure that you collect all the necessary evidence, and have the best chance of receiving the maximum compensation possible.