February 2009 Transportation Times e-Newsletter

Guest Passenger Liability

future truckerEvery tractor accident involving an injured guest passenger is a potential liability claim. The claim may be against the motor carrier and/or the driver whose negligence may have caused the accident. Consider the following scenario: A tractor-trailer driver pulled over to the side of the road to let his dog out for a break. He left his wife and 4-year-old son in the vehicle (neither of whom was authorized to ride along, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 392.60). The truck was rear-ended, causing serious injuries to the driver’s wife and killing his son. An investigation proved the truck was illegally parked. Lawsuits were filed on behalf of the wife and son. Claim costs exceeded $1.5 million. Guest passengers are likely to be friends, relatives or immediate family members, as was the case in this claim example. You might not expect an injured passenger with a personal or family relationship with the driver to file a claim of negligence. However, claims of this sort are paid by the motor carrier’s liability insurance, not the driver, and in fact are commonly pursued. An injured guest passenger who has not contributed to causing the accident often sues for past and future wage loss, past and future medical expenses, and pain and suffering.

Automobile Guest Statutes

Most states hold a driver liable if found to be negligent in an “ordinary” manner. In a few states, automobile guest statutes are applied in determining whether there is liability of the driver to a passenger. These statutes apply to “non-paying” passengers, and not to passengers in buses or other types of public transportation. Generally, the states with guest statutes require that the driver be grossly negligent or reckless to be liable for guest passenger injuries.

Part 392.60

FMCSR 392.60 addresses “Unauthorized Passengers.” This rule prohibits a driver from transporting a person on a commercial motor vehicle (other than a bus), unless specifically authorized to do so in writing by the motor carrier under whose authority the commercial motor vehicle is being operated. This written authorization must state the name of the person to be transported, the points where the transportation is to begin and end, and the date upon which such authority expires. The authorization must be maintained at the carrier’s principal place of business. At the discretion of the motor carrier, a driver may also carry a copy of the authorization.

Passenger Authorization Guidelines

Unauthorized and/or uncontrolled guest passenger policies increase the auto liability exposure motor carriers face. This impacts the cost of liability insurance premiums, exposes the motor carrier to DOT violations and penalties, and ultimately increases the cost of doing business. To avoid the liability exposure, motor carriers should prohibit guest passengers under any condition. However, if it is your company policy to allow drivers to take passengers, then a workable risk management technique may be authorizing passengers under limited or restricted conditions. It is better to know about passengers and attempt to control the exposure. A complete ban on all passengers can be difficult to enforce and can lead to situations where you have no knowledge of passengers.

To help control the exposure and risk of loss, while also rewarding your best drivers, consider the following driver and passenger guidelines for your company policy:

Criteria to Be Met By the Driver

  • Be employed by the truck line for 90 days or more
  • Have no accidents in the last two years
  • Have no more than two moving violations in the last three years

Criteria to Be Met By the Passenger

  • The minimum age must be at least 18 years old (Note: A parent cannot sign away rights of a minor.)
  • No passenger will be allowed on a customer dock at any time
  • No passenger is allowed to drive the truck at any time, or assist in any loading or unloading

Passenger guidelines should be established in writing. If passengers are allowed by your company, we suggest you include a “Passenger Authorization” form that defines your company policy and requires the driver’s signature.

Source: Sentry Insurance