William Bill Hurst
Normally, the operator of a motor vehicle has an obligation to exercise “reasonable care” for the safety and protection of his passengers. Most states, including Indiana, have modified that obligation through the enactment of a “Guest Statute” (IC 34-30-11-1). The purpose of a guest statute is to limit the circumstances under which a passenger can recover for personal injuries or death from the driver of a motor vehicle in which he was a passenger.
The Indiana Supreme Court recently discussed the application of Indiana’s Guest Passenger statute which protects negligent drivers against claims for negligence by certain designated passengers when the passengers are being transported “in or upon the motor vehicle.”
Being ‘in or upon the motor vehicle”’ thus connotes a physical connection to or contact with the vehicle…This understanding is consistent with the statute’s further limiting phrase, “while [the guest] was being transported.” Thus, if the injury is sustained at a time when a passenger is in mere physical contact with the motor vehicle but standing outside of or off of it or at a time when the passenger is not being “transported” by the vehicle, then the Indiana Guest Statute does not bar a passenger’s damage action against the driver. Clark v. Clark, 971 N.E.2d 58, 62 (Ind. 2012).
As previously stated, the Statue only applies to certain listed individuals: the person’s parent; the person’s spouse; the person’s child or stepchild; the person’s brother; the person’s sister; or a hitchhiker. For those listed individuals, lawsuits against the driver are limited to situations where injuries or death of the passenger were caused by the “wanton or willful misconduct” of the driver; in other words, if negligence only is proved, then passengers claims are without merit.
The stated purposes of such statutes are to foster hospitality by limiting lawsuits brought by “ungrateful” guests, to prevent collusion between the passenger and driver, and promote family harmony.