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Recovery by Guest in Automobile Cases

A “guest” in an automobile is a person who rides in an automobile driven by another person for his own pleasure or business without paying the driver or conferring any benefit on him. If the guest is injured while riding in the driver’s automobile, he may be permitted to recover for any injuries that he suffers. His recovery will depend on whether or not a “guest statute” applies in the jurisdiction.

No Guest Statute

Driver’s duty

Even if no guest statute exists in the jurisdiction regarding a driver’s duty to a guest, most jurisdictions require the driver to exercise reasonable care to protect the guest against injury. Reasonable care means the degree of care that a reasonable and prudent person would exercise under similar circumstances to protect the guest against unreasonable risks of harm. If the driver breaches this duty, he may be liable for all damages proximately caused by the breach.

In a few jurisdictions, a driver is only required to exercise a slight degree of care rather than a reasonable amount of care, and he may only be liable for gross negligence.

Guest’s duty

A guest must exercise reasonable care for his own safety while riding in another person’s automobile. He does not have the same duties as the driver, however. The guest normally may rely on the driver to drive responsibly and to look out for hazards. However, if the guest has time, he must warn the driver about impending problems or protest the driver’s recklessness if the driver is unaware of the problems or his own recklessness.

If the guest fails to exercise reasonable care for his own safety, he may be found to be contributorily negligent for any injuries that he sustains in an accident. Depending on the jurisdiction, the guest’s contributory negligence may either eliminate or reduce the amount that the guest may recover from the driver.

Guest statute

Some states have “guest statutes” that limit the liability of a driver who is sued in a negligence action by an injured guest. A typical guest statute provides that a driver is only liable to a guest for willful or wanton misconduct or gross negligence rather than ordinary negligence. Willful or wanton misconduct creates an unreasonable risk of harm to the guest in situations in which it is highly probable that substantial harm will occur. Gross negligence is the inadvertent lack of even slight care, and it falls between ordinary negligence and willful and wanton misconduct.

A driver may be liable for willful or wanton misconduct or gross negligence when his actions involve extreme or multiple acts of negligence.