Recovery by Passengers
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Passengers can recover for personal injuries and other losses.
Recovery by Passengers
Since North Carolina has no automobile guest statute, a driver will be liable for injuries to his guest if they result from the driver's failure to exercise ordinary care.
In one case, evidence that a driver permitted her foot to slip from the clutch while her automobile was in gear with the engine running, causing the automobile to lurch forward and the car door to come back against the guest, who had just alighted, was, in the absence of any explanation, sufficient to go to the jury as evidence of a lack of proper care under the circumstances.
On the other hand, there was no breach of the duty of ordinary care owed to guest passengers on the part of drivers who could not avoid colliding with automobiles which suddenly turned in front of or into the side of their vehicles. Similarly, an automobile guest passenger could not recover from her driver where the driver was traveling 50 miles per hour in a 55-mile per hour zone on a straight road in dry and clear weather, and where there was no showing that a prudent driver would have expected a second driver to enter the highway without yielding the right-of-way.
If an automobile owner knows of a defect in the vehicle which poses a hazard for a guest passenger, and the owner believes or has reason to believe that the guest is not and will not become aware of the hazard, the owner must warn the guest and take reasonable care in driving the vehicle.
A guest may be contributorily negligent, so as to preclude recovery against a host driver who causes injury to the guest. A guest must exercise ordinary care for his own safety; he cannot acquiesce in negligent driving and retain the right to recover against the driver. What constitutes ordinary care depends on the circumstances.
In Weatherman v. Weatherman, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that a passenger is generally deemed to have assumed the risk of dangers that are known to him, such as incompetency, inexperience, or reckless habits of the driver. It has been held that a guest has a duty to protest and to attempt to prevent negligent or reckless driving, and to leave the vehicle if his efforts are unsuccessful. If a guest knows that the driver is under the influence of intoxicants and voluntary rides with him, he is guilty of contributory negligence per se.
Contributory negligence will not bar an automobile guest passenger from recovering from a host driver if the driver is found to be willfully and wantonly negligent. Willfully engaging in a prearranged speed competition in violation of statute has been held to constitute willful and wanton conduct. A defendant driver was held not to have been willfully and wantonly negligent where the plaintiff guest, who was familiar with the roads in the area and knew that the defendant was not, urged the defendant to demonstrate the speed and acceleration of his Corvette automobile, with the result that the car "fishtailed" and struck a bridge.
However, willful or wanton negligence on the part of a plaintiff guest will bar recovery even against a host driver who has been willfully or wantonly negligent. The question of whether a plaintiff has acquiesced in the defendant's willful or wanton conduct, so as to bar recovery, arises in cases involving illegal racing on the highway. The North Carolina Supreme Court has held that the plaintiff's acquiescence must be more than ordinary negligence to bar recovery. The mere failure to protest, remonstrate or request that the guest be allowed to leave the car is no more than simple negligence. Thus, where a plaintiff guest had no notice of an agreement to hold a race when he entered the host's car, his failure to remonstrate or to leave the car at a rural crossroads late at night did not constitute willful or wanton negligence as a matter of law.