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GUEST STATUTE - HURST V. SNEED

Hurst v. Sneed, [Ms. 1151067, Feb. 3, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). The Court reverses a summary judgment entered by the Madison Circuit Court in a negligence action upon determining questions of fact existed about application of the Alabama Guest Statute, § 32-1-2, Ala. Code 1975.

The Court first stated the basic rule of construction of the statute:

“‘“ The general rule is that if the transportation of a rider confers a benefit only on the person to whom the ride is given, and no benefits other than such as are incidental to hospitality, good will or the like, on the person furnishing the transportation, the rider is a guest; but if his carriage tends to promote the mutual interest of both [the rider] and driver for their common benefit, thus creating a joint business relationship between the motorist and his rider, or if the rider accompanies the driver at the instance of the driver for the purpose of having the rider render a benefit or service to the driver on a trip that is primarily for the attainment of some objective of the driver, the rider is a ‘passenger for hire’ and not a guest.”’”

Ms. *6, quoting Sullivan v. Davis, 263 Ala. 685, 688, 83 So. 2d 434, 436-37 (1955). The Court emphasized,

“‘If the excursion is not purely social, any benefit to the driver of the automobile conferred or anticipated or mutual benefit present or anticipated to the driver and the person carried is sufficient to take the case out of the automobile guest statute.’”

Ms. *6, quoting Harrison v. McCleary, 281 Ala. 87, 90, 199 So. 2d 165, 167 (1967). The Court focused on the nature of the benefit that must be conferred to take a case outside of the statute:

“‘... In order to keep the person transported from being a gratuitous guest, it is not necessary that he should have paid or agreed to pay directly for his transportation or be a “passenger for hire” in the legal sense of the term; and the payment or compensation which the carrier derives from the undertaking need not consist of cash or its equivalent, but may consist of some other substantial benefit, recompense, or return making it worth while for him to furnish the ride.’ 60 C.J.S., Motor Vehicles, § 399(5)b, p. 1011.

“....

“... [T]he general rule [is] that a mere incidental benefit to the driver is not sufficient to take the rider out of the guest statute. The benefit conferred must in some degree have induced the driver to extend the offer to the rider. Further, courts have generally held that the benefit must be material and tangible and must flow from the transportation provided. ...”

Ms. *7, quoting Sullivan, 263 Ala. at 688-89, 83 So. 2d at 437. The Court then summarized the three components of the determination of whether a rider in a vehicle is considered a “guest” or a “passenger for hire” for purposes of application of the guest statute:

(1) 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; (2) 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 (3) 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.”

Ms. *8-9, citing Sullivan, supra. Here, the Court found a material issue of fact concerning whether the passenger conferred a material benefit upon the driver by agreeing to the driver’s request to accompany her to a store to assist the driver with her elderly aunt. Ms. *11. Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the passenger, the Court concludes that accompanying the driver to the store to assist with an elderly aunt conferred a material benefit so as to remove the passenger from “‘guest’ status” under the Alabama Guest Statute. Ms. *12.

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