How often do you drive distracted? Text messaging, studying the GPS, or even checking Facebook; every person reading this has probably engaged in at least one of these distractions while driving. How often are you the one doing the distracting as a passenger? The car can become an excellent opportunity to air one’s grievances to a captive audience. But when would a fight in a car, text messaging, or something else rise to passenger liability in the event of a car accident? The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently grappled with this question choosing to limit impositions of passenger liability to almost everyone’s relief.
In October 2013, Joseph Zeno picked up Christy Robinette from Blue Cliff College in Lafayette for a lunch date. Shortly after she got in the car, the pair started to argue. The argument became so intense that Mr. Zeno intended to drop Ms. Robinette back at her school rather than continue on their journey. Mr. Zeno put his car in reverse and then collided with the car behind him. Ms. Robinette filed a lawsuit for her injuries, but Mr. Zeno asserted that she was at least partially at fault for distracting Mr. Zeno with her screaming and cursing just prior to the accident.
Before the Judicial District Court for the Parish of Lafayette, Ms. Robinette won a motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The District Court agreed that there was no issue of material fact regarding Mr. Zeno being at fault for the accident. Because Mr. Zeno and the insurance company believed Ms. Robinette to be partially, if not completely, at fault because of her behavior in the car, they appealed to the Third Circuit seeking to expand passenger liability in Louisiana.