Can I Sue a Drunk Driver if I Am the Passenger in a Massachusetts Car Accident?

Drunk driving is a common cause of serious and deadly car accidents.  When a drunk driver injures or kills someone in another car or a pedestrian, the victim or their family is typically entitled to sue the drunk driver.  But what about a passenger in the drunk driver’s car?

Getting in the car with a drunk driver is often dangerous, and courts may hold that a passenger waives their ability to sue by putting themselves in a dangerous situation like that.  However, many passengers in cars might not know that the driver was intoxicated or might feel unsafe saying no to a ride.  This can be a complex issue, and it is best to always work with a Massachusetts car accident attorney on your case.

For a free case review on a Massachusetts car accident injury case, call our Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of John J. Sheehan today at (617) 925-6407.

Holding a Drunk Driver Responsible for a Car Accident in Massachusetts

Generally, drunk drivers are considered at fault for accidents.  In virtually any situation, it is illegal to get behind the wheel if you are drunk or high.  As many public safety campaigns have said, even driving while “buzzed” could be dangerous and could qualify as “drunk” driving.

When courts analyze fault in a car accident, the presence of alcohol in a driver’s system is going to be an automatic strike against them.  If they were over the legal limit, that weighs even more heavily in favor of holding them 100% liable for the crash.

There are some situations where a driver’s intoxication might instead only be a factor in determining who is at fault.  This usually comes up in situations where the other driver was also doing something very bad.  For example, a driver who was racing, going 80mph in a 25, and running red lights is likely going to be held accountable for a crash they caused.  If they hit a drunk driver who was driving the speed limit and stopping at all red lights, a court may hold the drunk driver only partially liable and force the other driver to pay for the majority of the damages in the crash.

Again, these are all just factors, and courts often have to weigh many factors and look at the specific details of the particular case at hand to determine who was at fault.  If you need help holding a drunk driver accountable for a crash, our Boston car accident lawyers can help based on the specifics of your case.

Can Passengers of Drunk Drivers Sue the Driver in Massachusetts?

It may be difficult to take the keys away from a drunk friend or loved one.  If you are relying on them for a ride or think it would be dangerous to get a taxi or an Uber/Lyft, you may feel pressured to get in the car with them.  Things might not be so clear if you don’t know the driver is drunk in the first place.  In many other cases, you may be drunk yourself and you give up the keys to a “more sober” driver to avoid a DUI.  Lastly, children might not be able to say no to a ride from a parent or trusted adult, even if that adult is intoxicated.  These factors can all affect whether the injured passenger can sue the drunk driver for their injuries.

Known Drunk Driver, Sober Adult Passenger

In cases where a passenger is a sober adult and gets in the car with a driver they know is drunk, the court might not look kindly on the passenger.  In these situations, the passenger knows the risks of what the drunk driver could do and gets in the car anyway.  Courts may consider this a “voluntary undertaking” that essentially waives your right to sue the driver for the crash when you knew the risks and went ahead anyway.

In these cases, your Somerville car accident attorney might suggest that the best route to compensation is to rely on insurance claims or to try to shift the blame from the driver of your car to the driver of the other car.  If the other driver was also drunk or was driving very recklessly, courts might be willing to award you at least partial damages paid by the driver of the other car.

The Passenger Doesn’t Know the Driver is Drunk

Taxi drivers, limo drivers, Uber/Lyft drivers, or even friends and family could hide their intoxication from a passenger.  Especially if you are sitting in the back seat or behind a divider (e.g., in a limo or taxi), you might have no idea that the driver is intoxicated.

In these cases, you should be able to hold the driver responsible for the crash if their intoxication caused the accident.  However, you will likely face pointed questions accusing you of hiding your knowledge or saying that you should have known the driver was intoxicated.  Get help from a Wakefield car accident lawyer to help with these kinds of issues.

The same rules would likely apply to developmentally disabled passengers who do not know or understand that the driver was drunk.  In those cases, the passenger should be considered an innocent victim, allowing them to sue the drunk driver.

Passenger and Driver are Both Drunk

Your ability to make good decisions is reduced while you are intoxicated.  If you gave up the keys to your car because you were drunk, but you didn’t know your friend was also drunk, courts could rule either way.

Voluntary intoxication might inhibit your ability to tell whether someone else is drunk or to make reasonable decisions.  Courts might take this into account when determining what you knew and whether you put yourself at risk by getting in the car with a drunk driver.  However, the fact that your intoxication was voluntary usually cuts against you (as compared to a situation where your drink was spiked or drugged).

These cases are incredibly difficult and fact-sensitive, so it is hard to say who would be at fault based solely on the setup.  Work with a Malden car accident attorney for help getting compensation in light of the specific details of your case.

Drunk Driver, Child Passenger

Many children are old enough to say no to getting in the car with a drunk driver.  These situations might be treated the same as any other situation where a sober adult gets in the car with a drunk driver, potentially falling under the “voluntary undertaking” situation.  However, young children might not be comfortable saying no to a drunk adult, especially if the adult was belligerent.  In these cases, the child is often an innocent victim and can hold the driver accountable for their injuries.  Again, these cases are incredibly fact-sensitive, so work with an attorney to protect your rights and your child’s rights.

Call a Massachusetts Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Today

For help with your car accident case, call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan.  Contact our Cambridge car accident attorneys for a free case review by calling (617) 925-6407.