Car Passenger Liability?

by Jeff
(San Ramon, CA, USA)

This is more of a scenario that my son and I have been debating, not an actual situation, but we are trying to obtain guidance...

Let's say my 21 year old nephew was a passenger in a car driven by a 20 year old friend. They were driving rather recklessly at high speeds around curving roads and videotaping their "fun" times. Let's say they hit and killed a bike rider on the road.

Obviously, the driver of the vehicle would be liable for the accident and the wrongful death, manslaughter, etc. Our question is, would there be any liability for the passenger (my nephew)? Could he be sued in a wrongful death case or anything else?

Thanks for your help.

Visitor Question:
Disclaimer: Information provided in our response is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Under no circumstances should the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Our response does NOT create an attorney-client relationship. Always get a formal case review from a licensed attorney in your area.

ANSWER for "Car Passenger Liability?":

Jeff (San Ramon, CA, USA):

Your pose some interesting questions. There are really two aspects of this scenario. There is the criminal aspect and the civil aspect.

Let's first take a look at the criminal aspect. Under California Statute 192 (b) (c), reckless driving resulting in the death of an individual can be classified as "Involuntary Manslaughter."

According to Section 192, Involuntary Manslaughter in California occurs when one person kills another unintentionally, either:

1. while committing a crime that is not an inherently dangerous California felony,


2. while committing a lawful act which might produce death, without due caution.

The salient feature of California's involuntary manslaughter is that it does not require intent to kill another person.

In the scenario you describe it's likely the driver would be indicted for involuntary manslaughter. While you say "they" when referring to driving recklessly, there is no evidence the passenger (your nephew) in any way participated in the reckless driving. As a result, your nephew would not be liable for any criminal offense.

The second aspect involves the civil liability of one or both parties. Once again, there is no evidence your nephew participated in the reckless driving. Unless he was holding the steering wheel, or pressing in the gas pedal, he would have no legal liability.

Moral liability is another question, especially if your nephew was prompting the driver to continue to drive recklessly.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

P.S. Please help us out by sharing this site...

Click here to post comments

Return to Car Accident Death Questions.

How Much Is Your Claim Worth?

Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney...

How Much Are Your
Injuries Worth?

Find out with a
free attorney review: