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Is a Passenger Ever At Fault for the Crash?

two men in a small car - one in the backseat and the driver turning to look at the passenger

In many car accident cases, the injured individual(s) will aim to hold the responsible driver accountable. But what if the person responsible for the incident was in a passenger seat? This blog discusses how liability may be placed on a passenger in certain circumstances and what someone in this position can do to ensure the best possible outcome for their case.

Passenger Liability in California Motor Vehicle Accidents

California operates under a comparative negligence rule, meaning that the compensation awarded in an accident will be reduced by whatever percentage of fault the plaintiff contributed. Because of this, determining liability in an accident is an essential part of recovery. When it comes to passenger liability, there are few cases in which this has arisen; however, there are provisions in the California Vehicle Code that can be used in these scenarios.

Negligence Per Se

Under VEH § 21701, “No person shall wilfully interfere with the driver of a vehicle or with the mechanism thereof in such manner as to affect the driver's control of the vehicle." This falls under negligence per se, meaning that someone negligently violated a specific section of a particular statute.

If using negligence per se in a car accident case, certain elements must be met:

  • The defendant (in this case, the passenger) violated this statute;
  • The plaintiff (the driver) was protected under this statute;
  • This violation caused injury to the person protected under the statute.

Examples of Passenger Liability

There may be several ways in which passenger liability can occur. For example, if the passenger grabs the steering wheel or restrains the driver's hand(s), it could be argued that they are interfering with the driver's control of the vehicle. Alternatively, if they are inhibiting the driver's ability to fully view the road, this may also be considered an obstruction.

Northern California Car Accident Attorneys

If your car accident was caused by negligence, we can help ensure you recover the full compensation to which you are entitled. Schedule a free consultation with Law Offices of Larry S. Buckley today to discuss your legal options.