Persons riding in motor vehicles are classified in the statutes and causes as either guests or passengers and are owed differing duties depending on whether they are guests or passengers. The difference is that guests are usually riding for free while passengers are being transported by a common carrier, such as a taxi or bus, for a fee or fare.
The duties owed by drivers or operators of motor vehicles to their social or other nonpaying guests who are passengers are governed by the guest statute.
The guest statute provides that the driver of a vehicle only owes a guest the duty to not willfully or wantonly injure the guest. However, the guest statute is in derogation of the common law, and as such, it should be strictly construed.
The relationship between the host and the guest is consensual in nature. Therefore, protests by a guest to the driver about the driver’s operation of the vehicles may vitiate that consent and change his status to that of a passenger. Whether children under 14 years of age are subject to the guest statute is to be decided by the jury based upon the individual child’s capacity to consent.
Basically, if you pay for the ride or are doing something to benefit the driver you are a passenger and may sue. If the driver is reckless, you are a passenger and may sue.
Where a person is a guest and seeks damages from the driver’s underinsured motorist insurance carrier after a single-vehicle accident, the guest statute controls the ability of the guest to recover against the insurer.
Buckle up, drive safely and as always, your referrals are appreciated!