Sharing a Ride: A Joint Venture That can Cost You

You and a friend decide to head out to the beach for a long weekend. You stop at a gas station on the way and split the costs of gas and you pay for the toll over the Bay Bridge.

“I want to beat some of the notoriously bad beach traffic and get out there”, your friend says to you.

“Yeah, let’s beat the rush,” you casually reply.

Windows down, your friend speeds along the two-lane road on the Eastern Shore. That is until he takes a turn at a high rate of speed, misses a stop sign, and slams into another vehicle. Luckily, everyone escapes with only relatively minor injuries, but the two vehicles are probably good only for scrap. Turns out, your buddy is insured with Bare Bones Insurance. He’s got the state minimum but that might not be enough to pay for the damages to the seven-person people-mover that arrived from Germany only last week.

The police write a report. Insurance companies are contacted. Counsel is retained. When attorneys for the driver and passengers of the other vehicle find out that you and your friend were going to the beach together, split costs, and were going to made a long weekend of it, they become increasingly interested in you and your insurance. Knowing Bare Bones will only pay to the policy limits, but aware this case could be worth a lot more, you and your insurance company become targets for the rest of the money. Their legal theory rests on the idea that you and your friend were acting as a joint venture.

A joint venture, under the law, is when two or more persons are acting in partnership for some understood purpose. They have vested interests, they may contribute money, capital, or time, and they share risk and liability. “Joint venture” in the business world is a term more often thought of in terms of when big businesses and corporations work together. But under the law, it can be as simple as two people acting in concert with some shared expenses for a single transaction or occurrence.

Since you were acting together with your friend, and since you paid for the gas and tolls, you were part of the joint venture. As part of the joint venture, under the law it is assumed you are responsible for the trip to the beach in the same way your friend is responsible. Your friend’s speeding and reckless driving is therefore a shared responsibility. You could have insisted your friend drive the speed limit and with more caution instead of trying to beat traffic. You could have even refused to be a passenger in the vehicle under such conditions, thus ending the joint venture.

This article isn’t meant to make you paranoid when cooperating with your friends but to make you aware of some of your responsibilities and potential liabilities should an accident of the sort described here occur. The other side surely will have attorneys. You’ll want to get advice from your own attorney who will be able to assess the particular circumstances of your case.

Fred Antenberg is an attorney in Columbia, Maryland, who has over 30 years’ experience in personal injury matters in Howard County and surrounding Maryland counties. Call Fred at 410-730-4404 for a Free Initial Consultation.