When Are You a Passenger or Guest under Alabama’s Guest Statute?
In determining whether a rider is a “guest” or “passenger” under Alabama’s Guest Statute, the court must determine whether the excursion conferred any benefit on the rider and whether the driver was induced to solicit the company of the driver because of the benefit the rider’s presence would confer on the driver.
Just the Facts
Sherri Hurst and Brenda Ray had been friends for about 20 years prior to the car wreck that is the subject of this litigation. Hurst and Ray shopped together once or twice per month and shared rides many times over the years, alternating whose vehicle was taken. On August 22, 2013, Ray called Hurst to request that Hurst accompany her to Wal-Mart. Ray expressed that she needed Hurst’s help because Ray would have with her her elderly aunt Nona Williams. Hurst testified that her purpose in going with Ray was to help with Williams and make sure they got to the correct destination. Williams confirmed in her testimony that Hurst was present to assist with Williams, because Williams and Ray had limited mobility.
Ray drove her vehicle, and Williams and Hurst were riders. Once they arrived at Wal-Mart, Ray let Hurst and Williams out at the curb, but before Hurst get completely out of the vehicle, Ray began to pull forward. Hurst fell to the ground, and the vehicle ran over her leg, causing injuries.
The Case at Hand
On August 21, 2015, Hurst sued Ray’s estate. In the estate’s answer, it raised the defense of Alabama’s Guest Statute (Alabama Code § 32-1-2). After discovery had been conducted, Ray’s estate moved for summary judgment on the ground that Hurst’s claims were bared by the guest statute. The trial court granted the estate’s motion for summary judgment. Hurst appealed. Sherri Hurst v. Rankin Sneed, as administrator ad litem for the Estate of Brenda M. Ray [Ms. 1151067, February 3, 2017], — So.3d — (Ala. 2017).
Looking at the Alabama’s Guest Statute
While the term “guest” is not defined in the statute (Alabama Code § 32-1-2), the Alabama Supreme Court has previously held that if the presence of the rider being transported confers or promotes a mutual interest to both the rider and driver for their common benefit, the rider “is a ‘passenger for hire’ and not a guest.” Moreover, if the trip being taken confers any benefit to the driver of the automobile or there is an anticipated mutual benefit to the driver and passenger, the matter does not fall under the guest statute. The benefit to the driver may not be incidental but “must in some degree have induced the driver to extend the offer to the rider.”
The court’s task in determining whether a passenger is a guest or passenger-for-hire is to make “a detailed examination of the present and former relations between driver and passenger; implied and expressed arrangements made between them as to the conduct of the particular trip; the purpose of the mission; the benefits accruing to the driver and passenger from the expedition; and any other factors that bring into proper focus the true status of the parties at the time of the accident which give rise to the legal action.”
The Passenger-for Hire/Guest Test
Hurst argued that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment because Hurst was more akin to a passenger-for-hire than a guest. In order to make that determination the Supreme Court of Alabama looked to the 3-part test set out in Sullivan.
- if the transportation of a rider confers a benefit only on the rider, and no benefits, other than such as are incidental to hospitality, good will, or the like, on the driver, the rider is a guest;
The Supreme Court of Alabama found that no benefit was conferred on Hurst by her accompanying Ray and Williams to Wal-Mart on the day of the subject incident, to assist Ray with Williams. Hurst was not being monetarily compensated. Thus, under the first component of the test, Hurst was not a guest.
- if the transportation tends to promote the mutual interest of both the rider and the driver for their common benefit, thus creating a joint business relationship between the motorist and his or her rider, the rider is a “passenger for hire” and not a “guest”; and
Similarly, the trip on this particular day was outside the norm of Hurst and Ray’s regular shopping outings. Ray specifically asked Hurst to go to Wal-mart to assist Ray with Williams. No facts in the record showed the creation of a joint business relationship between Hurst and Ray because no benefit was being conferred upon Hurst. Here again, Hurst is not a guest.
- if the rider accompanies the driver at the instance of the driver for the purpose of having the rider confer a benefit or service to the driver on a trip the primary objective of which is to benefit the driver, the rider is a “passenger for hire” and not a “guest.”
The Alabama Supreme Court found under the third component that Hurst was a passenger rather than a guest because Hurst conferred upon Ray a material benefit by accompanying Ray to Wal-Mart to assist with Williams. Therefore, Hurst passed the test, and was found to be a passenger not a guest, and Alabama’s Guest Statute did not bar recovery for her claims.
In short, where a driver requests that a rider accompany her on an errand or mission and (1) no benefit is conferred on the rider, and (2) the driver is induced to request the accompaniment of the rider by the benefit that will be conferred on the driver, the rider will not be a “guest” under the meaning of Alabama’s Guest Statute.
For more reading on this topic, here is an analysis of how Alabama’s Guest Statute may apply to riders in ATV accidents.
 Sullivan v. Davis, 83 So.2d 434, 436-37 (Ala. 1955); see also Dorman v. Jackson, 623 So.2d 1056, 1057 (Ala. 1993); Sellers v. Sexton, 576 So.2d 172, 174 (Ala. 1991).
 See Harrison v. McCleary, 199 So.2d 165, 167 (Ala. 1967).
 Sullivan, 83 So.2d at 688-89.
 Sullivan, 83 So.2d at 687.
Photo by Lisa Brideau.