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Can a drunk driver’s passenger recover damages after an accident?

If a drunk driver causes an accident in which the passenger riding in the car is injured, is the passenger entitled to recovery for damages, or should the passenger have known not to even get in the car in the first place? Here in Pennsylvania as in many other states, this concept of “comparative negligence” may affect a lawsuit and how much compensation an injured passenger can recover.

Comparative negligence explained

Under Pennsylvania law, even if the plaintiff was negligent to some degree by getting into the car with a driver he or she knew was drunk, the plaintiff has a right to recover compensation if his or her own negligence “was not greater than the causal negligence of the defendant or defendants against whom recovery is sought.”

In plain English, that means if the drunk driver or combination of defendants was at least 51 percent negligent for your injuries, you could still recover damages. What this also means, however, is that if a court found you to be, for example, 20 percent negligent, then the amount of damages you could recover would be reduced.

Too harsh on the plaintiff?

This issue pops up when passengers injured in drunk driving accidents will file a lawsuit against a bar or restaurant for over-serving the driver. The establishment will counter that the passenger should have known better than to get in the car. However, appellate judges in Pennsylvania have found that argument is not valid, because the decision to over-serve a visible intoxicated patron was more negligent than the passenger choosing to get into the car.

It is entirely possible that the drunk driver may also argue that you should have known better and that you were just as negligent. This could arise if you were both, for example, drinking at home where no one was serving you.

This can be a complex issue for anyone to understand. As in any other personal injury case, the quality of legal representation that you acquire will have a large effect on the outcome.

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