Alex Petraglia Explains: Can a Passenger Be Liable for a Car Accident?


Traffic collisions are usually the fault of one or more drivers. But what kinds of legal liability do passengers have in car crashes? In this article, trial lawyer Alex Petraglia discusses whether a passenger can be held liable for a collision.

Car accidents are always stressful, but they can also be life-changing. If a collision leads to a serious or catastrophic injury, the responsible person should be held accountable.

Driving while distracted is incredibly dangerous. When most people think of distracted driving, they usually picture a driver texting, eating, or being inattentive. But a passenger may also present a distraction. So what happens if a passenger seems to be the cause of the accident?

What is “Nonverbal Consent” for Passengers?

Anyone who is traveling by car and not operating a vehicle is considered to be a passenger. Many people assume that the driver of a vehicle is always responsible if an accident occurs.

Typically, the driver is liable for a collision that occurs while they are operating the vehicle. However, even if they are not responsible for an accident, passengers are sometimes prohibited from recovering financial compensation for injuries that they suffer in a crash.

Agreeing to ride with a driver is usually considered to be the same as providing “nonverbal consent.” This means that passengers agree to take on certain risks.

But what happens if a passenger is behaving recklessly or encouraging negligent driving?

Can Passengers Be Negligent?

Typically, passengers are not held accountable for an accident involving a vehicle that they were not controlling. In other words, passengers are not capable of behaving in a way that is legally considered to be “negligent.”

Even in cases in which the passenger is acting in a distracting way, they are not liable if a collision happens.

Sometimes, situations do occur that might implicate someone who is riding in a car. For example, suppose that a car contains a driver and a passenger that are having an intense argument. If the passenger angrily grabs the steering wheel in the heat of the moment, they may cause a collision. In a scenario like this, it might seem like a legal gray area.

But if a passenger grabs the steering wheel of a vehicle, they will legally be considered to be a driver. So in this scenario, the person who was only a passenger may be held legally responsible for the crash.

The same is true if a passenger presses the gas or brake pedals.

In other words, some rare cases may involve legal liability for the person riding in the car. Other examples include explicitly encouraging the driver to:

  • Speed
  • Use drugs
  • Drink
  • Drive recklessly

Some of these cases may result in a person being held financially responsible for any victims who suffered damages or injuries because of their actions.

Seeking Legal Representation is Important

Cases involving driver or passenger negligence can be legally complex. If only two people are in the car at the time of a collision, the facts of the case can be difficult to prove. Because of this, it is crucial to find a skilled attorney with trial experience.

Alex Petraglia is a licensed criminal defense and family attorney who views his relationship with clients as a sacred bond. He passed his bar admissions in 2015 and has been vigorously defending his clients’ rights ever since. In a pursuit to perfect his trial skills and client care, he has graduated from Gideon’s Promise Trial Program for public defenders, one of the top trial training courses in the country.


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