Q: I was driving my mother to the doctor and accidentally ran a stop sign. I feel really bad about the wreck. My mother was injured and the other party was hurt. My insurance company told me they wouldn’t pay anything for my mother’s injuries because of the “guest statute”. What are they talking about and why won’t they pay for my mother’s injuries when it was my fault?
A: This guest passenger statute came about as a result of insurance companies trying to not pay claims. The statute was purportedly enacted to protect drivers who picked up a hitchhiker from being sued by the hitchhiker if they had an accident and the hitchhiker was injured.
In 30 years of handling car wreck cases, I have never heard of or read about a case where a hitchhiker tried to sue a driver for having an accident where they were injured.
The “Guest Passenger Statute” states 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 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.”
On February 3, 2017, the Supreme Court of Alabama rendered a decision in Hurst v. Sneed that addressed the Guest Passenger Statute. The Court restated the rule that if furnishing a ride promotes both the benefit of the rider and driver, or if the rider accompanies the driver at the request of the driver, for the purpose of having the rider render a benefit or service on a trip that is primarily for the objective of the driver then the rider is a passenger for hire and not a guest.
The Supreme Court stated that at one end of the spectrum is the hitchhiker and at the other end is someone who pays the driver for transportation. A person who pays is not a guest. Between these two extremes you have to look at the present and former relationships between the driver and passenger, to bring into proper focus the true status of the parties at the time of the accident.
If the ride is to benefit both parties, they are probably a passenger. I think that carpooling where rides are swapped rather than gas money is outside of the guest statute. Minor children aren’t subject to the guest statute as they have no right to decline the ride. So the question becomes, did your mother pay for gas, was she going to buy lunch, or did she help buy the car in exchange for you providing transportation? Be sure and talk to a lawyer before you talk to the insurance company.
Buckle up and drive safely.
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