Indiana holds onto a law known as the "Guest Statute." Codified as Indiana Code 34-30-11-1, this law works to limit or prohibit passengers in automobiles from recovering from automobile liability insurance companies when the drivers cause injuries to their passengers in accidents. Indiana’s Guest Statute states that drivers are not liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or the death of the drivers’ parents, spouse, children or stepchildren, brothers or sisters, or hitchhikers to whom they have given a ride. Because automobile liability insurance companies in Indiana only have to pay the damages that their insureds are legally responsible to pay, Indiana’s Guest Statute works to prohibit family members (and hitchhikers) from recovering from the insurance companies that insure the moms, dads, brothers or sisters who are driving.
For the Guest Statute to bar recovery against drivers and the drivers’ insurance carriers, it is necessary that, at the time of the accident, the passengers are traveling in the car without having paid for the ride. Also, if the injuries result from the "wanton or willful misconduct" of the drivers, then the drivers and their insurance carriers are not shielded by the Guest Statute.
Because the Guest Statute goes against the basic principle that all persons should be held accountable for the injuries they cause, a great body of law has developed in Indiana to circumvent the provisions of the statute. For example, Indiana courts have softened the meaning of "wanton or wilful misconduct," going so far as to state that falling asleep at the wheel could be determined to be wanton or wilful misconduct. Also, because being paid will cause the drivers to be held accountable for the injuries they cause to family members and hitchhikers, the courts have given a broad meaning to what constitutes "payment" under the Guest Statute, so that it does not require merely the payment of money, but can also include anything of value that the riders give to or exchange with the drivers.
Indiana's Guest Statute can shield the owners, operators, or persons responsible for the operation of motor vehicles and their insurance companies from liability. If you are riding as a passenger in a vehicle being driven by a family member and are hurt in an accident, consult with an attorney to be sure that your rights are protected, and to take care that Indiana’s Guest Statute does not shield the insurance companies from paying for the damages you have suffered.