I had a call today from a potential client who was injured badly in a single car accident. The driver swerved when a deer ran out. She was the passenger. Under Alabama law, an individual who operates a vehicle is not liable for injuries or damages sustained by a non-paying passenger within the vehicle unless the injured passenger can show that his or her damage resulted from willful or wanton conduct on the part of the driver. Alabama Code Section 32-1-2. Although this law can be beneficial for the driver, it can leave injured passengers (as in this case) without any way to recover for their losses received due to the negligent actions of the driver.
The Alabama Guest Statute was passed in 1935. The law provides that the guest must be transported without payment in order for the statute to apply. Therefore, if the evidence shows that the driver received any payment or other benefit (such as an Uber, cab or bus driver would), then the driver would not be shielded from liability under the Guest Statute. Additionally, if the injured passenger can show that the driver's improper conduct was willful or wanton, the Guest Statute does not bar recovery. Generally, “willful or wanton” is improper conduct that is greater than “mere negligence”. Examples include drinking and driving, excessive speeding and other types of reckless driving.
Most states have abandoned these types of “guest” or “passenger” statutes.
Although the Guest Statute bars recovery for many injured passengers, it may possible to recover under certain circumstances,.