In a recent crash, a Jonesboro police officer was trapped inside his overturned vehicle while a suspect was ejected out the back window.
Arkansas Online reported on the crash, which took place Thursday, August 18 just after 5 p.m. Officer Justin Thompson was transporting suspect Logan Younger to the Craighead County jail in the back seat of his patrol car when the vehicle flipped over and rolled.
Younger, the suspect, was ejected through the shattered rear window; he attempted to flee the scene but was quickly captured. Thompson was trapped in the vehicle and, after being extricated from the car, was transported by helicopter to Regional Medical Center in Memphis.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation. However, video showed the suspect partially loosening his handcuffs and kicking the vehicle's door as well as the glass partition between himself and the officer shortly before the crash. Younger had also used a lighter to attempt to light the patrol car on fire.
Crash raises legal questions about passengers involved in crashes
Under Arkansas law, passengers are usually exempt from liability when they are involved in car crashes, as fault is presumed to lie with someone who was actually operating a vehicle. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, including cases when a passenger interferes with the driver's operation of the vehicle.
When a passenger deliberately distracts or disrupts a driver and contributes to a collision, that passenger can be held liable for injuries sustained in that collision. Distracting the driver by kicking and otherwise attempting to damage the vehicle, as Younger did, is one way that a passenger could contribute to causing a crash. In other instances, a passenger might physically interfere with the driver's control of the vehicle by grabbing the wheel or obstructing the view, or verbally interfere by telling the operator to drive faster or more aggressively.
It's rare, although not by any means impossible, for a passenger to be held solely responsible for an accident - usually, the operator who is physically in control of the vehicle is also held liable. This can lead to cases where both a driver and a passenger are partially responsible for someone's injuries. To handle these complex situations, Arkansas uses the legal doctrine of modified comparative negligence, which means that damages (financial compensation) for injuries sustained in a crash can be sought from each responsible party in proportion to their level of responsibility for the crash, so long as the plaintiff (the injured person) was less than 50 percent at fault.
For instance, if a driver was 70 percent responsible for a crash and the passenger who distracted the driver was 30 percent responsible, a third person injured in that crash could seek full compensation, 70 percent of which would come from the driver and 30 percent from the passenger. The passenger in such a scenario could also seek compensation from the driver, but those damages would be reduced by 30 percent because of the passenger's own contribution to his injuries. The driver, however, would not be able to recover at all, because he was more than 50 percent at fault for the accident.