Every motorist in South Carolina has a duty to drive safely and obey traffic laws so as not to endanger other drivers on the road. A breach of that duty can constitute negligence. If you’re injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of someone else, the at-fault driver of the other car is generally liable for your:
- Property damage
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional/psychological trauma
- Wrongful death (if you’ve lost a loved one in an accident)
You may be entitled to file an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against that driver to collect compensation for your damages.
In some cases, though, an unruly passenger in the at-fault vehicle might distract the driver, interfere with the safe operation of the car, and be fully or partially responsible for the accident that injures you. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seven percent of distracted driving accidents occur when passengers are interacting with drivers.
In most cases, passengers who contribute to an accident are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, when passenger-driver interaction causes a wreck, proving liability and collecting fair compensation for damages can be difficult. Having the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney can be essential.
How a Passenger Might Cause an Accident
Some examples of impaired passenger behaviors that might distract a driver from the safe operation of a vehicle include:
- Talking loudly to or arguing with the driver
- Taking photos or videos of the driver
- Touching or striking the driver
- Adjusting a mirror, radio, GPS, or another device in the car
- Showing the driver images or texts on a phone screen
- Blocking the driver’s line of sight
- Touching or grasping the steering wheel
- Opening a car door while in motion
- Brandishing a weapon
- Stepping on the accelerator, brake pedal, or clutch from the passenger’s seat
- Drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Displaying other forms of drug- or alcohol-impaired behavior
When an impaired and unruly passenger displays any such distracting behavior, the driver has a duty to pull off the road and stop the car until it can be driven safely. There are, however, some cases in which stopping might not be an option:
- When driving on an Interstate highway or a road without a shoulder
- In heavy traffic
- In the case of an emergency
As long as the vehicle is moving, the driver has a responsibility to ignore the passenger’s distracting behavior and operate safely. Failure to do so is negligence. Some of the passenger behaviors listed above, however, could be impossible to ignore.
If an accident results, determining liability for damages is a complicated process since only the people in the car know what really happened. The driver might blame the passenger, and the passenger might blame the driver. Sorting out who is responsible and to what extent may require the services of an experienced attorney.
How Comparative Negligence Affects Your Claim
South Carolina follows a comparative negligence rule in personal injury cases. This means that different percentages of fault for an accident can be assigned to different people involved, and anyone injured in the accident might be able to collect damages from more than one party:
- If you’re injured due to an impaired passenger’s interference with the driver of the at-fault car, you might have a claim against the passenger.
- If the driver should have been able to foresee or ignore the impaired passenger’s distracting behavior but did not, you might have a claim against the driver and the passenger.
- If the driver is found liable and/or is injured in the accident, that driver might have a claim against the impaired/unruly passenger.
- An intoxicated passenger who touches the steering wheel/operates the gearshift, accelerator, brakes, or clutch is:
- Considered a driver of the vehicle
- Liable for any damages caused in the wreck
- Subject to prosecution for DUI
- A passenger who encourages or allows someone who shows signs of alcohol or drug impairment to drive is partially responsible for the crash and resulting damages.
- Any party found more than 50% responsible for the crash may not collect any compensation for damages.
The Importance of Having an Attorney
Some of the ways a lawyer can assist in such a case might include:
- Calling in an accident reconstructionist to determine what actually happened and prove the liability of the responsible parties
- Interviewing occupants of the at-fault vehicle and any other witnesses to the crash
- Obtaining video footage of the accident from any nearby security or red light cameras
- Securing data from an electronic monitoring system (“black box”) if you’ve been hit by a commercial vehicle
- Identifying multiple at-fault parties, filing multiple insurance claims, and negotiating with multiple insurers
- Determining the percentages of fault of all occupants of the at-fault vehicle and demanding fair settlements accordingly
- Filing multiple lawsuits and fighting for you in court if insurers do not offer reasonable settlements
How to Help Your Attorney Help You
There are several steps you can take at the scene of the accident to strengthen and protect your claim. If you’re physically able to do so, you should:
- Move to safety but don’t move your car unless it’s a hazard to other vehicles.
- Don’t be in a hurry to repair your car. Its damage could provide crucial evidence in your case.
- Stay at the scene and call 911.
- When law enforcement arrives to make an accident report, answer their questions honestly but do not give extra information or admit any fault to anyone.
- Take photos of the cars involved, especially their license plates and evidence of damage.
- Exchange information with the other driver(s), but do not discuss the accident or argue.
- Get contact information from any witnesses to the crash.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible even if you don’t feel that you are injured. Adrenaline resulting from the wreck could mask symptoms that a doctor’s exam will reveal.
- Notify your insurance company.
- Consult a car accident attorney.
Have You Been Injured In A Charleston South Carolina Area Car Accident?
If you've been injured in a car accident you should speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach, North Charleston or Florence office locations.