A number of car accident lawsuits and personal injury cases involve parties who know one another. They may be friends, neighbors, or even family members. While plaintiffs may initially be reluctant to file a case against a loved one, these matters are often not about collecting directly from the defendant but instead from the defendant’s insurer. Often, it’s essential and the only way to get medical bills and lost wages covered.
A recent case before the Alabama Supreme Court involved two individuals who had been friends and neighbors for approximately 20 years prior to the incident in question. Every month – sometimes a couple times a month – the two women would shop together and share rides to help ease the burdens of gas prices and wear-and-tear on their vehicles, and to keep each other company. They typically alternated as to whose vehicle they would use.
On one morning in August 2013, the defendant called the plaintiff to ask if she could accompany her to the store. The defendant was taking her elderly aunt with her that day to buy medication and other merchandise in preparation for her aunt’s upcoming move out of state. The defendant explained the elderly aunt was “very old” and moved slowly, and the plaintiff said she would appreciate the extra help. The defendant also suffered from a number of health problems that impeded her mobility, but she was able to walk without assistance.
The defendant drove her vehicle to the store, with her elderly aunt and the plaintiff as passengers. When they got to the store, the defendant pulled up to the curb so that her elderly aunt could get out. After the aunt had exited, the defendant asked the plaintiff to stand at the entrance with her aunt and wait until the vehicle was parked and she could join them. The plaintiff then started to exit the car. However, before she could completely step out, the defendant lurched forward. This caused the plaintiff to fall. The plaintiff sustained further injuries when the vehicle’s back tire ran over one of her legs.
At some point after that, the defendant died of causes unrelated to this situation.
The plaintiff sued the defendant’s estate after the pedestrian accident. She alleged the defendant was negligent in her driving, and she sought to recover damages for her injuries.
The estate responded, citing, among other defenses, the Alabama Guest Statute. North Carolina does not have a guest statute, but the purpose is to make it more difficult for a passenger in an automobile to recover damages from the driver for injuries received in an accident resulting from ordinary negligence. Instead, plaintiffs have to prove gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. Most states have abolished their guest statutes, but a few remain (Alabama, Nebraska, and Oregon).
The defendant sought a summary judgment, which was granted by the court. The plaintiff appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed.
That ruling was predicated on the definition of the word “guest,” which the court had further held to mean a situation wherein there is no benefit to the driver. If, however, there is a promotion of mutual interest by both the driver and the passenger, something that is for their common benefit, the rider is not a guest. In cases in which the excursion isn’t purely social, but instead there is some benefit to the driver, that is sufficient to take the case out of the guest statute. In this case, the court ruled, the plaintiff was actually a “passenger for hire.” Even though she wasn’t actually being paid, she was there to confer a benefit onto the defendant by helping her and her elderly aunt shop. Therefore, the plaintiff had grounds to pursue her case out of the purview of the guest statute.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Hurst v. Sneed, Feb. 3, 2017, Alabama Supreme Court
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Car Accident Lawsuit Involves Sheriff, Qualified Immunity, Jan. 27, 2017, Greensboro Car Accident Lawyer Blog