Recently, I was asked to review a case where the potential client’s mother was killed in an automobile accident in which her uncle was driving. The uncle was at fault in the accident and the potential client wanted to know if she could bring a claim for wrongful death for her mother’s estate.

Unfortunately, as I told her, Alabama has what is called the guest passenger statute. Alabama is the last state in the nation to retain a guest passenger statute. Basically, under the guest passenger statute, passengers are limited to suits against drivers based on gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. In other words, in a car accident case the person who caused the accident is usually legally negligent and therefore responsible for the injured party’s damages.

But under Alabama law, a passenger in the vehicle must prove that the driver was not only negligent, but also grossly negligent or reckless in some way. Most drivers on the road, absent some extraordinary circumstances such as drunk driving, are merely negligent if they cause an auto accident. Unfortunately, for this potential client’s case, I had to tell her that the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death simply didn’t give rise to a claim and that she was barred under Alabama law.

There are exceptions to this statute, though. Had the uncle been a taxi driver or had he been paid to take her mother somewhere, that would have changed the status. But as a general rule of thumb, if you are getting a free ride, under Alabama law your driver is immune to the ordinary duty of care that most drivers would have with respect to you.