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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
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Two CRAZY Alabama Laws

10 comments

From time to time, I'm sure you have seen various laws which are absolutely ludicrous, but they have nothing to do with our everyday lives. But, Alabama has two laws on the books which would surprise most people, AND the use of these laws arise fairly frequently regarding car accidents.

What are they? One is commonly referred to as the Alabama Guest Passenger Statute. The other involves the involuntary loss of consciousness of a driver. The first is a statutory provision. The second has essentially been adopted through case law.

So, what is the Guest Passenger Statute? Read it here:

Section 32-1-2

Liability for injury or death of guest.

The owner, operator, or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle shall not be liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or death of a guest while being transported without payment therefor in or upon said motor vehicle, resulting from the operation thereof, unless such injuries or death are caused by the willful or wanton misconduct of such operator, owner, or person responsible for the operation of the motor vehicle.

(Acts 1935, No. 442, p. 918; Code 1940, T. 36, §95.)

Alabama is about the only State in the U.S. which still has this statute. So, if you are riding with someone and that someone runs a red light or is speeding and has an "accident", they are not liable to you unless you conferred some benefit on them, i.e.: paid for their gas or promised them something for the ride. Or, if you can show they were wanton in their driving, i.e.: had been drinking and driving. In fact, if you have your own uninsured motorist coverage policy, it will not cover you either.

Now, on the sudden loss of consciousness, our courts have held as follows:

An involuntary and unforeseeable loss of consciousness constitutes an affirmative defense to negligence and wantonness claims based on an automobile accident. See Walker v. Cardwell, 348 So.2d 1049 (Ala. 1977).

So, just as happened to a client of mine recently, if a person is driving on the highways of our State and passes out, they are not liable unless they had reason to know they were likely to lose consciousness. This makes a lot of sense. The person who is injured as a result of the person passing out did absolutely nothing wrong, and yet, even if the person who lost consciousness has insurance, that person is not at fault, and their insurance will not cover the wreck (nor will your insurance cover your injuries). So, next time you have a wreck, pretend like you passed out, and you won't be at fault (that is sarcasm, but it shows the idiocy of the law).

What do you think? Are these laws ridiculous to you, or do you think they make sense?

10 Comments

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  1. Don Rich says:
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    The rationale for the first one was the “Good Samaritan” idea as I recall, as to not punishing people for giving people rides, if that was kind of a different time and place too,like more rural, and less cars. Perhaps random strangers should or should not be picked up as to state policy, a different question than if a friend is in a car, if, then do you want friends suing friends? Maybe you do though, as to assigning costs on healthcare, which is what drives a lot of stuff, although I guess you do get Medpay, if you have it, correct or no?
    As to the second, yes, there is possibility of gaming that, although most people don’t know that, like they do more in knowing to say “My knee hurts, because the state won’t value loss of use correctly.” There’s an area to think about too, as to case law impacting how the system operates, as you lose so much on the economic value of the car, not to mention the inconvenience.

  2. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thanks for the comment Don. It’s my understanding that you are partially right. The reason for the guest passenger law was to encourage people to pick up hitchhikers during WWII. Obviously, we don’t encourage hitchhiking any longer.

    On the latter, you are absolutely correct. People think the person at fault owes for what is owed on their car, but instead, they only get what the car is worth, so if they are “upside down” on the loan, they are out of luck in Alabama.

  3. Tom says:
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    It is interesting what kind of laws are out there.

  4. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thank you Tom. I will post the winner in the comments tomorrow afternoon and on facebook and twitter. The winner can pick up the tickets at my office on Wednesday. 2229 1st Avenue North, Birmingham, AL (corner of 1st ave. and 23rd st.).

  5. Donna says:
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    In reference to the first: I always thought ‘the driver’ of a vehicle in an accident was totally responsible for their passengers no matter what. It only made sense because they’re the ones controlling the vehicle, not the passengers.
    After a long period of time (ie: since WWII era), can laws be changed?
    I’ve never caused (or been in) an accident. Now I just might ‘pass out’ if I ever am.
    Thanks for informing us of these laws.

  6. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thank you for the comments Donna. Yes, laws can be changed if our legislators do something about it. The problem is that the insurance companies don’t want these laws changed. They benefit from these laws.

    You are entered for the tickets. I will let everyone know the winner for Thursday night’s game.

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    The Guest statute is antiquated and is no longer the law in a majority of jurisdictions. Alabama would do well to scrap the Guest statute. The loss of consciousness precedent is contrary to public safety and gives a disincentive for commercial carriers to look the other way, which is prohibited by the federal regs. Both of these are plainly contrary to public policy.

  8. Kenny Hartley says:
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    In both situations, it is more concerning that my own insurance might not cover my injuries than my inability to file a claim with a friend’s insurance, or sue what will surely become a former friend. I often think of what my father once told me, “We would all be better off if insurance had never been invented.”

  9. Jon Lewis says:
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    Great points Champ! Everyone should read this and understand what insurance companies have done. Kenny, I love it. My dad always says, “Insurance covers everything but the loss.”

  10. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thanks to Random.org, Donna is the winner. Donna, you can pick the tickets up at my officer – 2229 1st Avenue North (corner of 1st and 23rd street). They will be in an envelope at the front desk.