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Who’s Responsible if a Passenger Causes a Car Accident in South Carolina?

Usually, the driver behind the wheel is responsible for a car accident. Barring issues with mechanical failure or defective auto parts, the person in control of the vehicle is responsible for any accidents they cause while driving. However, there are rare circumstances where the passenger might be responsible for a crash.

When a passenger causes a crash, they might be held liable for the accident – at least in part. In many cases, the driver is still responsible for what happened while they were driving, so it’s possible the passenger could be only partially responsible. In some cases, the passenger might be seen as “taking over” as the driver, in which case they might be held fully liable for the crash. However, the details of every case are different and will heavily affect how the case is decided.

For help with a car accident claim in South Carolina, call the South Carolina car accident lawyers at Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers for a free case review at (803) 451-4000.

Who Is Responsible for a Car Crash in South Carolina?

In general, whoever caused an accident is liable for the injuries that resulted from that accident. Legally speaking, the law calls this “negligence,” and a claim against someone for negligence consists of four elements:

  1. The defendant owed the victim a legal duty
  2. The defendant breached that duty
  3. The breach of duty caused the victim’s injuries
  4. The injuries and damages can be compensated in court.

A passenger typically does not have any legal duties under the traffic code except wearing a seat belt. Instead, the legal duty that is usually involved in these cases would be the duty to act as an ordinary passenger of reasonable prudence would act. That means avoiding severe distractions to the driver and not interfering with their driving.

If a passenger grabs the wheel, pulls on the emergency brake, or otherwise takes control of the vehicle, they could be held liable as if they were the driver. This means being responsible for any traffic violations while they were in control of the vehicle. If this happened in your case, our South Carolina personal injury attorneys may be able to help prove they were the ones who committed negligence and ought to be held accountable for the crash.

Examples of Passenger Negligence in a Car Accident in South Carolina

There are a few different ways a passenger can be held responsible for a crash. Our Sumter car accident lawyers will explain some general types of ways that a passenger might be responsible for a crash and what effect that has on legal liability, and some specific examples of these kinds of actions and issues.

Interfering with a Driver

This is one of the most common ways a passenger might be held partially liable for a crash. In this kind of situation, the driver is in control of the vehicle, but the passenger does something to break their concentration or otherwise interfere with their ability to drive safely.

Some examples of this would include the following:

  • A backseat passenger reaching around and covering the driver’s eyes
  • Sudden yelling or distractions from a passenger that scare the driver (e.g., yelling “Watch out!” and pointing at the road when there is no actual danger)
  • Physical or romantic interactions with a driver
  • Feeding the driver
  • Showing the driver text messages or pictures on a phone

The driver might still be primarily at fault for their actions in these cases. They may also have been the one to initiate an interaction with the passenger, or they may be the one to “give in” to distractions by looking away from the road. However, the passenger might also share responsibility in these kinds of cases.

Courts can hold passengers partially responsible for damages, ordering them to pay a percentage of the total damages equal to their percentage of fault. Our Columbia car accident lawyer can help you determine if this kind of shared fault is available in your case.

“Taking Over” as the Driver

If the driver passes out, it might be reasonable for the passenger to reach over, try to control the vehicle, and get it to a stop safely. If the driver is in control of the vehicle, any other grabbing of the steering wheel or other vehicle controls could be considered interference. Courts might even declare that, in that moment, the passenger was actually the driver.

Some examples of this kind of interference or “taking over” would be the following:

  • Grabbing the steering wheel
  • Pushing on the driver’s leg to push a pedal harder
  • Pulling the emergency brake
  • Shifting gears or putting the car in Neutral or Park
  • Turning off the engine or taking the key out of the ignition

In these kinds of situations, the passenger might actually be the driver, and they could be held fully liable for the crash as if they were in the driver’s seat. Alternatively, courts might assign them partial liability, as discussed above.

Switching with the Driver to Hide Liability

A somewhat common plot point in movies and TV is that a driver causes a crash then asks the passenger to switch seats with them and take the blame for a crash. Although this is rare in real life, a driver might attempt to do this for any of the following reasons:

  • They want to avoid liability
  • They don’t have insurance
  • They don’t have a license
  • Their license is restricted from previous DUIs or other traffic violations
  • They were drunk or drugged at the time of the crash
  • They can’t afford to pay damages

The belief is that if a passenger switches places with them, the passenger could be held liable instead. This requires keeping up a difficult lie, and our Columbia personal injury lawyers can often get to the bottom of things, prove who the real driver was, and ask the court to hold them responsible. Your eyewitness testimony, statements from the at-fault driver and their passenger, and evidence like the seat position at the time of the crash can all be used to help prove who was really driving when the accident occurred.

Regardless of which seat the driver was in after the accident, whoever was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash should be liable for the crash. However, both a driver and passenger who tried to switch could face criminal and civil penalties for fraud, false police reports, or violations of certain traffic laws.

Call Our South Carolina Car Accident Attorneys Today

If you were injured in a crash that might have been caused by the passenger in the car, our South Carolina car accident attorneys can help. Call Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers today for a free case review at (803) 451-4000.