Can a Passenger be Held Liable for Car Crash Related Injuries?

Car crashes are usually caused by negligent drivers. Common causes such as distracted driving, speeding, and impaired driving are just a few examples. However, there are some cases where a passenger can be held fully or partially liable for a crash.

Imagine the following scenario: you are a backseat passenger in a friend’s car. Your friend is driving, while another friend is sitting in the front seat. Your two friends begin to argue and the front seat passenger grabs the wheel from the driver, causing a crash. You are injured in the crash. Can you sue? If so, whom should you sue?

This scenario is not far-fetched. In fact, a very similar scenario occurred in the recent decision of McKay v Park. In this case, there were three occupants in the vehicle: a driver and two passengers. The three occupants were having an argument when the two passengers grabbed the steering wheel from the driver, causing the car to crash. One of the passengers sustained personal injuries and sued both the driver and the other passenger.

In this case, the driver was the owner of the vehicle and had an automobile insurance policy. In order to drive a vehicle on a public road in Ontario, the owner of the vehicle is required to have third-party liability insurance coverage. This coverage protects the owner when s/he injures or kills someone else in a car crash. This coverage also applies when the owner allows someone else to operate his/her vehicle.

This is based on the legal concept of vicarious liability. Under the Highway Traffic Act, a car owner is vicariously liable for the negligent operation of his/her vehicle by others. However, there is one notable exemption. If the vehicle was being operated by another person without the owner’s consent, then the owner is not vicariously liable.

In McKay v Park, the defendant driver successfully argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed as against her, on the grounds that the passengers were entirely responsible for the crash. More notably, however, she successfully argued that she was not “vicariously liable” for the actions of the other passenger and he was therefore not covered under her car insurance policy.

This is an interesting decision, as cases had previously held that a vehicle owner is vicariously liable if s/he is in the vehicle while another is operating it. In McKay v Park, it was found that the driver did not consent or entrust her vehicle to the other passenger.

As a result, when a passenger is found liable for a car crash, insurance coverage issues could come into play. A passenger could be found 100% liable for a crash, while simultaneously being uninsured. In this circumstance, Plaintiffs may have to seek compensation from their own automobile insurer or even the Ontario Motor Vehicle Accident Fund.

It is, therefore, very important to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer in these circumstances. An experienced personal injury lawyer will determine the proper parties to sue and ensure proper compensation.

About the Authors

Liane is committed to representing individuals who have suffered serious personal injuries and to families who have suffered the losses of loved ones. Liane holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Windsor, where she received the Torkin Manes Cohen and Arbus award for combined academic achievement and service to the community, and the Charles J. Clark scholarship for academic excellence and involvement in community and volunteer activities. She was called to the bar in 2013.

To learn more about Liane, please click here.