§49.6 Duty of Passenger
The Case: Grandstaff v. Hawks , 36 S.W.3d 482 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000).
The Basic Facts: Multi-car wreck resulted in multiple claims, including both drivers suing each other. The jury apportioned two percent fault to the passenger and forty-nine percent fault to each driver.
The Bottom Line:
- "Our courts have also recognized the distinction between a passenger's duty to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety and a passenger's duty to the public to prevent collisions. Passengers have a duty to exercise reasonable care for their own safety. See Harrison v. Pittman, 534 S.W.2d 311, 315 (Tenn. 1976); Rollins v. Winn-Dixie, 780 S.W.2d at 768. Accordingly, in order to protect themselves, they are expected to warn drivers of unseen dangers, to protest excessive speed, and to refrain from riding in a vehicle being operated by an intoxicated or reckless driver. See Cole v. Woods, 548 S.W.2d 640, 650 (Tenn. 1977); Schwartz v. Johnson, [280 S.W. 32, 33 (Tenn. 1926)]. However, passengers owe no duty to the public to control, or even attempt to control, the operation of a vehicle unless they have a right to do so, either through their relationship to the vehicle itself or to the driver. See Cecil v. Hardin, 575 S.W.2d 268, 270 (Tenn. 1978); Nichols v. Atnip, 844 S.W.2d 655, 661-62 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992)." 36 S.W.3d at 492.
- "The facts of Cecil v. Hardin dramatically illustrate the distinction between a passenger's duty to him or herself and a passenger's duty to others. The parents of a bicyclist who was killed by an intoxicated driver filed a wrongful death suit against the driver and the driver's passenger. The trial court directed a verdict for the passenger on the grounds that there was no evidence that his negligence caused the driver to strike the bicyclist or that the driver's negligence should be imputed to the passenger. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the directed verdict because there was no evidence from which the jury could have concluded that the passenger had a right to control the operation of the vehicle, as opposed to the right to make suggestions which the driver was at liberty to disregard. See Cecil v. Hardin, 575 S.W.2d at 270." Id.
Other Sources of Note: Lanier v. Bane , No. M2000-03199-COA-R3-CV, 2004 WL 1268956 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 4, 2004) (distinguished from Grandstaff by holding that a plaintiff/passenger suing the defendant/driver of the vehicle in which he was a passenger cannot be found comparatively negligent for the actions of the defendant/driver).