Speak Up! - View Question #62
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Question: If you are in a car and someone hits you and someone in your car dies are you in trouble?
Answer: In answewring this question, the assumption has been made that the person asking the question was operating the car that was hit. If a driver is simply a passenger in a car that's involved in an accident, and they had nothing to do with causing the accident, such as grabbing the steering wheel, they will not be in trouble under the criminal law, traffic law, or civil law.
Also assumed is that the accident was not the fault of this person, but was the fault of the other person whose car hit our car. If our driver caused the accident, then certainly our driver is in trouble on a number of levels, including possible prosecution for negligent homicide, various driving violations, and would probably be sued civilly for having caused the accident.
If a person is operating a vehicle and is involved in an accident that they did not cause, they usually will not be in trouble, even if someone is killed. There are potentially two exceptions to this statement.
1. Arizona law requires that the operator of a vehicle is responsible for having any child under five years old who is a passenger in that car restrained in a proper child seat. If a person was driving a vehicle and did not have a child secured in child's seat and that child were killed in an accident, even though it was not the fault of our driver, our driver could potentially be prosecuted for negligent homicide or any number of criminal violations. The driver might also be sued by the parents of the child for that child's wrongful death, especially if it could be proven that the child would have survived the crash had it been properly strapped into a child's seat.
2. A similar statute requires that the driver of any vehicle must require any front seat passenger under the age of 16 to be wearing their seatbelt and shoulder harness. As in the case of a small child mentioned above, a driver who fails to require their front seat passenger to wear their seatbelt could be prosecuted and perhaps sued civilly, as well.
Although the law does not require seatbelts for backseat passengers who are 16 years or older, Arizona follows the "seatbelt rule." This rule allows the person who caused the accident to avoid having to pay damages for injuries suffered by someone not wearing a seatbelt if they can show the injuries would not have occurred, or would not have been as serious, had the injured person been wearing a seatbelt.
For example, there have been a number of cases in Arizona in the last year or so in which a young person was riding in the back seat of a vehicle and not wearing a seatbelt. The vehicle was then hit by a car running a red light or a stop sign and rolled over. Those who were wearing their seatbelts were not seriously injured but those who were not wearing seatbelts were generally thrown from the vehicle and killed or seriously injured when the car rolled over on them. In those cases, the insurance company for the driver of the car who ran the stop sign or red light would usually argue that they should not have to pay for the severe injuries or death of those who were not wearing their seatbelts.