Monthly Archives: January 2009

More Jury Instructions for West Virginia Personal Injury Trials – Passengers

I’ve often referred to jury instructions as being the best guide of what West Virginia law is with respect to personal injury cases, and automobile injury litigation in particular.  Here are some more having to do with passengers:


    A passenger may be found liable for injuries to a third party caused by the intoxication of the driver of the vehicle in which he is riding, if the following conditions are met:

    (I)    The driver was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs which proximately caused the accident resulting in the third party’s injuries, and

    (2)    The passenger’s conduct substantially encouraged or assisted the driver’s alcohol or drug impairment.

Wheeler v.Mumhig452 S.E.2d 416 (W.Va. 1994)


     When two or more persons undertake an activity involving an automobile for a common purpose, with the common right to control the use of the vehicle, then each is liable for any negligence of the other occupants of the vehicle that is committed during the operation of the motor vehicle. Therefore, the negligence of one of the occupants of the vehicle is imputable to the other occupants of the vehicle if there was a common right to control the vehicle by the other occupants of the vehicle.
    However, a passenger in a motor vehicle is not responsible for any negligent acts of the driver of the vehicle by the mere fact the driver and passenger were riding together to the same destination for a common purpose, when the passenger had no voice in directing and controlling the operation of the motor vehicle. 

Price v. Haistead177 W.Va. 592, 355 S.E.2d 380 (1987).

Wheelerv. Mumhu452 S.E.2d 416 (W.Va. 1995).


     A “joint venture” is an association of two or more persons to carry out a single business enterprise for profit. To constitute a joint venture, each party must contribute something promotive of the enterprise. This can be property, money, efforts, skill, knowledge or anything else which has value and “promotes” the common undertaking. The contributions of the respective parties need not be equal or of the same character. Where a joint venture exists, each joint venturer is liable for the negligence of his or her co-venturers committed within the scope of the enterprise.

Price v.Halstead177 W.Va. 592, 355 S.E.2d 380 (1987) Single v. Starr520 S.E.2d (W.Va. 1999)


    A guest passenger may be held liable for the consequences of the driver’s negligent operation of his motor vehicle, where the guest directs or encourages the negligent act, or personally co-operates therein. Ratification of the negligent conduct of the driver by a guest may be equivalent to command, and co-operation may be inferred from acquiescence where there is power to restrain.

Price v. Haistead355 S.E.2d 380 (W.Va. 1987)


    The Court instructs the jury that in the ordinary operation of an automobile under circumstances and conditions which may be considered usual for the street and road being traveled, a guest in the automobile such ps the plaintiff, , is not required to be constantly at the height of attention and alertness in order to raise an instant alarm if danger should arise.

Darling v. Browning, 120 W.Va. 666, 200 S.E. 737 (1938).

Contributory Negligence of Passengers in Automobile

 In order for you to find that [passenger] was contributorily negligent for getting into the automobile with [driver] as the driver or remaining in the automobile with Edriver] as the driver when [passenger] could have gotten out prior to the wreck that injured him, you must find (1) that [passenger] knew, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have known, [driver] was drinking, and (2) that [passenger] knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that [driven’s ability to drive was impaired. Unless you find that [passenger] knew, or by the exercise of reasonable care, could have known that [driver]’s driving was impaired before he entered [drivel’s automobile or remained in it as passenger after being afforded the opportunity to get out, you cannot find that [passenger] was contributonily negligent.

    Further, if you find that (passenger] only discovered that (drivel’s driving was impaired when he began to speed and drive recklessly, and that [passenger] had no reasonable alternative but to stay in the car after protesting the driving to [driver], then, in that event, [passengerj could not be contributorily negligent.

Meade v. Meade, 147 S.E.2d 171 (Va. 1966)

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.


Be wary of insurance concerns when renting automobiles

You have to be extremely careful when you drive rental cars.  You will have the option to purchase insurance from the rental car company.  You may or may not need this coverage.  You need coverage, but some people may be covered by their primary auto insurance policy.  Or they may not, depending on the circumstances.

Many of the policies out there cover rental cars being driven if their primary vehicle has broken-down or is otherwise being worked-on or out of commission.  However, many of those same policies do not cover rental cars being driven if the policyholder’s primary vehicle is operational – for instance if you rent a car while on vacation.  This means that if you choose not to purchase the insurance on the rental car and you are involved in an accident, you may be liable to the rental car company for the complete property damage to the rental car.  This is because you will be signing a contract with the rental car company agreeing to pay for any property damage that is not covered by insurance.

Thus, the wise course of action is to either be aware of the terms of your primary policy, and to know whether or not you will be covered ahead of time, or to be extra safe and purchase the policy when you rent the vehicle.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.