Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff and another were passengers in Defendant’s car. The other passenger yanked Defendant’s steering wheel causing the car to swerve, but Defendant regained control and did not do anything about it. The passenger again yanked the wheel, causing the car to veer off the road and hit a tree, resulting in injuries to plaintiff. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When actions of a passenger that interfere with the driver’s safe operation of the motor vehicle are foreseeable, the failure to prevent such conduct may be a breach of the driver’s duty to his passengers or the public.
Whether a duty exists is entirely a question of law, to be determined by reference to the body of statutes, rules, principles and precedents which make up the law; and it must be determined by the court.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether a driver has a duty to prevent unsafe conduct by passengers that could interfere with his safe driving and ultimately harm his passengers.
Held. Yes. A driver owes a duty of care to his passengers because it is foreseeable that they may be injured if, through in attention or otherwise, the driver involves the car he is operating in a collision. Pipher argued that after Beisel grabbed the steering wheel initially, Parsell was on notice that a dangerous situation could reoccur in the truck. At this point, plaintiff argued that Parsell had the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect his passengers from that harm, and was negligent because he kept driving without attempting to address that risk. The court held that when actions of a passenger that interfere with the driver’s safe operation of the motor vehicle are foreseeable, the failure to prevent such conduct may be a breach of the driver’s duty to his passengers or the public.
Discussion. This decision highlights the role of foreseeability in proving negligence. Foreseeability of harm is central to the issue of whether a person’s conduct fell below the standard of care.