The below information was written by our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach.
No. There are a number of reasons why an injured person’s claim may fail against the drunk driver of the vehicle he or she was a passenger in. Although Virginia law says that a person who drives a vehicle under the influence of intoxicants is negligent as a matter of law, the drunk driver will not be held responsible for injuries sustained by passengers in his or her vehicle if the drunk driver’s conduct was not a proximate cause of the car accident that resulted in the injuries to his or her passengers. For example, if the vehicle operated by the drunk driver was stopped at a red light when it was struck in the rear by another vehicle, the drunk driver’s conduct is not considered a proximate cause of his or her passengers’ injuries, absent some other facts indicating that the drunk driver’s operation of the vehicle proximately caused the accident. In such a situation, the injured passengers in the drunk driver’s vehicle may be able to make a successful injury claim against the driver of the vehicle that rear-ended their vehicle, but an injury claim against the drunk driver would fail due to a lack of proximate causation.
Additionally, it is possible for an injured person in Virginia to be barred from recovery against the drunk driver of the vehicle occupied by the injured person under the doctrines of contributory negligence and/or assumption of the risk. In Virginia, contributory negligence is defined as the failure to act as a reasonable person would have acted for his or her own safety under the circumstances. In cases involving injured persons who ride in vehicles operated by drunk drivers, the Virginia Supreme Court has written that a person “who knows or in the exercise of ordinary care should know that the driver has been drinking intoxicating beverages to such an extent that his ability to drive has been or is likely to have been impaired and voluntarily enters the automobile or continues as a passenger after a reasonable opportunity to leave is contributorily negligent in the absence of exigent circumstances which make such conduct reasonable.” That means that the injured passenger in the drunk driver’s vehicle can be barred from recovery against the drunk driver, even if the injured person did not know that his or her driver was drunk. According to the Virginia Supreme Court, if the injured passenger should have known that the driver of his or her vehicle had been drinking to such an extent as to impair that driver’s ability to operate the vehicle, then the injured passenger’s claim against the drunk driver will be barred by the contributory negligence doctrine.
The assumption of the risk doctrine is similar to the contributory negligence doctrine in the context of a passenger injured in a car accident due to the negligence of his or her drunk driver, except the assumption of the risk doctrine requires the drunk driver to show that the injured passenger fully understood the nature and extent of the known danger and voluntarily exposed himself or herself to it. Writing about a passenger’s assumption of the risk when riding in a vehicle operated by a known drunk driver, the Virginia Supreme Court has said, “one who voluntarily elects to ride with a driver, knowing that the driver has been drinking to such an extent that his ability to drive has been or is likely to have been impaired and fully appreciating the nature and extent of the risk involved in riding with him, has assumed the risk.”
Questions regarding the negligence of drunk drivers and the potential defenses to claims against drunk drivers are specific to the facts of the individual personal injury case, and we encourage you to contact our personal injury lawyer in Virginia Beach. A personal injury lawyer can assess whether the drunk driver’s conduct was a proximate cause of the accident and whether the injured person’s conduct constitutes contributory negligence and/or assumption of the risk. Cases involving drunk drivers can also entitle the injured person to punitive damages in addition to the ordinary compensatory damages allowed in person injury cases.
For a discussion regarding ordinary compensatory damages in a personal injury case, click here. For a discussion of punitive damages in drunk driving cases, click here. As in all personal injury cases, experienced personal injury lawyers can also advise the injured person as to the value of the personal injury claim, can guide the injured person through the process of making an injury claim with the applicable insurance company or companies, and can represent the injured person in the litigation of the personal injury claim, if a personal injury lawsuit becomes necessary.
Waiting can hurt your case. To find out how our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach can help you, please contact us at (757) 486-2700.