The recent tragic death of Paul Walker when he was a passenger in a $440,000, 604 hp, V-10 Porsche CGT has saddened his fans. The driver somehow lost control of the high powered car and it crashed. The car is crazy fast, and even one of Porche’s own test drivers, Walter Rohrl, has said the car is the only one that scares him when he drives it. This was a single vehicle case, meaning it was not a drag race, and no other car was involved in the accident.
Passengers have the right to a driver who can control the vehicle and use at least ordinary care while driving no matter what kind of car, truck or motorcycle they are on. Gettng behind the controls of a high velocity motorcycle or car implies the driver knows how to drive it. I have handled many cases involving single vehicle accidents which have killed or injured passengers. Most are single vehicle roll overs at high speed on the interstate. Sometimes the passenger is lucky enough to walk away without significant injuries. Sometimes they are killed if they are not wearing a seatbelt and get ejected.
Most insurance policies exclude (don’t cover) the liability of the driver to the passenger for the driver’s negligence if the passenger is related as a family member to the driver. However, friends who are riding around with a negligent driver are covered if the negligent driver caused them to get hurt by running a light, failing to stop at a stop sign, or violating other traffic laws.
Passengers who are seriously injured need to decide whether their need for compensation outweighs the personal relationship between them and the driver. The personal relationship will definitely take a hit if the passenger makes a claim against the driver’s insurance company. Even though the insurance company for the driver will ultimately have to pay the claim, the driver will likely get offended by the claim. Nothing like a threat of a lawsuit to ruin a good relationship! If the driver is uninsured or underinsured the passenger may fall back on the passenger’s own uninsured coverage.
Passengers have no legal duty to control the driver. We hear of backseat drivers. The law does not require passengers to make the driver slow down or drive more carefully. However, if the passenger gets into the car knowing the driver is incompetent because he is drunk or high on illegal drugs that is a defense. Under those circumstances the passenger should get another ride.
My suggestion: if you are a passenger who has been seriously injured in a single vehicle car accident it is a good idea to get legal advice from a skilled attorney. Also, don’t let someone who you know is drunk drive. This time of year especially is a good time to be the designated driver.