What is a guest passenger? The courts of Alabama have defined it as follows:
“ “ “The general rule is that if the transportation of a rider confers a benefit only on the person to whom the ride is given, and no benefits other than such as are incidental to hospitality, goodwill or the like, on the person furnishing the transportation, the rider is a guest; but if his carriage tends to promote the mutual interest of both himself and [the] driver for their common benefit, thus creating a joint business relationship between the motorist and his rider, or where the rider accompanies the driver at the instance of the latter for the purpose of having the rider render a benefit or service to the driver on a trip which is primarily for the attainment of some objective of the driver, the rider is a passenger and not a guest.” ” “ Cash v. Caldwell, 603 So.2d 1001, 1003 (Ala.1992) (quoting Wagnon v. Patterson, 260 Ala. 297, 303, 70 So.2d 244, 249 (1954), quoting in turn Hasbrook v. Wingate, 152 Ohio St. 50, 56-57, 87 N.E.2d 87, 91 (1949)).”
Alabama law provides that the owner of the car is not responsible for injuries to his passengers as a result of his negligence.
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 said motor vehicle.
(Acts 1935, No. 442, p. 918; Code 1940, T. 36, §95.)
This law does not hold true of the driver of the car is “wanton”. What is wantonness, you ask? Wantonness is defined as conduct which is carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. What does that mean? If the driver of a car is driving twice the speed limit in a driving rain storm while on the cell phone, that would be considered wantonness.
Should this be the law? Probably not. If a driver is negligent and causes injuries to his passenger(s), he should be liable, and his insurance company should compensate the victim. Why should such drivers receive this quasi-immunity for injuries to their passengers? Many States agree. Unfortunately, Alabama tends to remain status quo.