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§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).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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