Under Alabama law, an individual who operates a vehicle is not liable for injuries or damages sustained by a non-paying passenger within the vehicle unless the injured passenger can show that his or her damage resulted from willful or wanton conduct on the part of the driver. Alabama Code Section 32-1-2. Although this law can be beneficial for some drivers, it can leave injured passengers without any recourse for recouping losses received due to the negligent actions of drivers. For this reason, most states have abandoned these types of “guest” or “passenger” statutes.
The Alabama Guest Statute was passed in 1935. The law provides that the guest must be transported without payment in order for the statute to apply. Therefore, if the evidence shows that the driver received any payment or other benefit (such as an Uber, cab or bus driver would), then the driver would not be shielded from liability under the Guest Statute. Additionally, if the injured passenger can show that the driver’s improper conduct was willful or wanton, the Guest Statute does not bar recovery. Generally, “willful or wanton” is improper conduct that is greater than “mere negligence”. Examples include drinking and driving, excessive speeding and other types of reckless driving.
The Guest Statute does not apply to a claim for negligent entrustment or supervision. Therefore, in situations where the driver of the vehicle was entrusted the vehicle by another person or entity, an injured passenger may still have a valid claim against the owner of the vehicle in certain circumstances. Additionally, an injured passenger may be able to recover damages under the Uninsured Motorist Statute where coverage is available.
Although the Guest Statute bars recovery for many injured passengers, it is possible to recover in some circumstances, as discussed above. If you were injured as a passenger in a vehicle, you may call Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C. for a free evaluation of your claims.