A decision released recently
by the Alabama Supreme Court, Phillips v. United Services Automobile Assoc., held there was no evidence of wantonness in a
single-vehicle accident. In this case, the driver took her eyes off the road in
order to wave to friends in another vehicle, and then lost control, injuring a
Because of the harsh
effect of Alabama’s guest statute, the injured passenger was required to prove,
not merely that the driver was negligent, but that the driver was guilty of
wantonness, which is more difficult to prove, because that requires a showing
that the driver acted consciously or recklessly in disregard of the rights or
safety of others.
This illustrates the unfairness
of Alabama’s guest statute. Many states around the country adopted guest
statutes in the 1930s, but almost all states, other than Alabama, have repealed
or substantially abrogated their own guest statutes. Additionally, this case
illustrates the importance of prompt and thorough investigation, as quickly as
possible after a serious accident, in order to document and preserve
information and evidence about the actions of the party at fault.
A Cum Laude Honors graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Alabama tort law expert Mike Roberts has successfully litigated cases covering civil litigation, personal injury, negligence, product liability, wrongful death and fraud. He is the author of six editions of Alabama Tort Law, and is licensed to practice law before the United States Supreme Court.