Court Reaffirms: No Passenger Responsibility in Car Crash Caused by Drunk Driver

Louisiana courts have consistently held that a guest passenger is not responsible for a driver’s negligence. “This jurisprudential rule recognizes the fact that an automobile passenger is generally incapable of influencing the driver’s behavior: it is unrealistic to hold … that the occupant of a motor vehicle has factually any control or right of control over the driving of the operator.” See Adams v. Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford, 543 So.2d 480, 485 (La. 1989). Despite this well-settled rule, the plaintiff in the case of Delcambre v. Jones attempted, unsuccessfully, to impute the defendant driver’s negligence to his passenger. On September 24, 2006, Stephen Delcambre was stopped at a red light on U.S. Highway 90 in St. Martin Parish when his car was struck from behind. The errant car, which had been rented by Jeffrey Schommer, was being driven at the time by Thaddeus Jones while Schommer was a passenger. Jones was drunk at the time of the accident and later pled guilty to DWI. Delcambre filed suit against Jones and Schommer, and eventually settled with Jones. During a trial in the continuing action against Schommer, Schommer’s counsel moved for dismissal after the close of Decambre’s evidence. The trial court granted this motion. Delcambre appealed, claiming as the sole assignment of error that the trial court erred in failing to find that Schommer was bound in solido (both together) in liability with Jones.

Delcambre urged that Schommer should be held liable with Jones in solido under Louisiana Civil Code Article 2324(A), which states:

“He who conspires with another person to commit an intentional or willful act is answerable, in solido, with that person, for the damage caused by such act.”

The Third Circuit, however, in reviewing the trial record, pronounced it “completely devoid of any evidence whatsoever that Mr. Schommer conspired with Mr. Jones to commit any act, intentional or otherwise.” The court observed that the only evidence Delcambre offered about Schommer was that “he was so intoxicated that he was blacked out on the side of the road after the accident, unable to speak or even sit up.” Agreeing with the trial court’s conclusion, the court deemed that Schommer would have been unable to conspire with Jones in his condition. Furthermore, “Schommer’s intoxication alone certainly does not prove the conspiracy” required by the Civil Code to impose in solido liability. Accordingly, the court found no error in the trial court’s ruling and affirmed the dismissal of Delcambre’s action.

Although one can sympathize with Delcambre’s desire to maximize his recovery for the personal injuries and property damage he sustained at the hands of Jones, Louisiana’s long-held rule that a driver’s negligence is not imputed to a guest passenger defeated his attempt to obtain compensation from a passenger. Merely renting a car and surrendering the keys to another driver–even one who is intoxicated–are not enough to invoke in solido liability for the driver’s negligence.

If you have been injured in a car accident, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you get the recovery you deserve.