Can I Recover Damages if I Was a Passenger in a Car Driven by a Drunk Driver?

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A closeup of a rear-end accident between two cars, and a couple in the background arguing over what happened.All motor vehicle accidents are stressful.

There are many different factors involved in every crash. There were more than 250,000 car accidents in North Carolina in 2021, and most of them were caused by distracted driving, speeding, and driving while intoxicated.

Traveling in a car on a public road will always involve risks. This danger is why people wear seatbelts and why cars are manufactured with an increasing number of safety features.

Victims of car accidents are entitled to seek compensation for their injuries and for damage to their vehicles. Passengers are no exception, as they are just as likely to suffer injuries as the driver.

In order to recover damages in North Carolina, it is necessary to prove that the passenger did not know that the driver was intoxicated.

Can a Passenger Sue the Driver in an Accident?

Passengers who were not at fault for the accident can sue the driver for compensation for their injuries. Depending on the circumstances, they can sue both drivers if they shared fault for the crash.

Even if the driver is someone you know, you can sue them for damages. The lawsuit will be in civil court, meaning they will not have any criminal charges brought against them from your decision to seek compensation.

The driver’s insurance company typically pays for damages claimed in a lawsuit.

North Carolina has a rule called Contributory Negligence. This rule means that if the victim is found to share any of the faults for the accident, they cannot claim damages.

Even if they are only given one percent of the responsibility for causing the collision, they will not receive any financial compensation from a personal injury claim.

Insurance companies use this rule to their advantage, so drunk driving accident lawyers have to fight a difficult battle to prove that the victim had no fault in the accident in order to get them the compensation they deserve.

The good news is that it is much more difficult for insurance companies to place blame on passengers for the accident. Ways that a passenger could be partially at fault for causing a car crash are:

  • Distracting the driver
  • Blocking the driver’s view
  • Grabbing the steering wheel
  • Knowingly entering the vehicle with a drunk or otherwise intoxicated driver

What Should a Passenger Do After an Accident?

Victims of motor vehicle collisions often experience disorientation immediately after the impact. This confusion could be caused by the shock of the accident itself, the immediate adrenaline rush, or even from a brain injury.

Fighting through any disorientation to make good decisions is imperative because your actions after a crash and even a few days later will either help or hurt your legal case.

Move to Safety

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may be in a precarious position and will need to move to a safe location to avoid further injuries.

You should not move too much if you do not absolutely have to, in case you have any spinal damage or other injuries that could become aggravated by movement.

But, for example, if you are in the middle of the road around a blind curve, sinking in water, or hanging off a cliff, you will have to risk the movement to save your life.

Call For Help

The police and paramedics have to be notified of the accident so they know to come and help you. Never assume that someone else will call.

The bystander effect, described by Psychology Today, shows how people are less likely to help when there are other people around. Everyone assumes that someone else will help to the point of nobody helping at all.

If you are unable to call for help yourself, be sure to make eye contact with one specific person and get them to verbally agree to call for you.

Wait For Police

The police will arrive to investigate the scene of the accident. They will document what happened and who was responsible.

They will also administer any necessary tests for the intoxication of the drivers. The police report is the most important document for determining who was at fault for the accident, so you should be sure to tell them exactly what happened.

You should not assume that the drivers will be honest about their faults. If you are not medically able to wait for police at the accident site, they should take your statement at the hospital, or you might have to go to them at a later date.

If this is the case, be sure to write down every detail so nothing is forgotten or left out.

Get Medical Attention

Always get a complete medical examination after a car accident. Even if the accident was minor and you feel fine afterward, some injuries take time to present themselves.

Paramedics will be able to assess your injuries and apply special braces to stabilize your spine. You may be in shock or have other internal injuries that are not immediately apparent.

The emergency medical technicians will transport you to the nearest medical center for further examination and treatment. A prompt medical exam will be necessary to prove your injuries are the result of your accident.

Waiting too long to be seen by a doctor could allow insurance companies to argue that any of your injuries were caused after the accident and thus refuse to compensate you for any related expenses.

Be sure to get checked out right away so that you have legal documentation that insurance companies will not be able to argue with.

Gather Information

Get the license plate numbers of all vehicles involved and a description of the vehicles and drivers just in case anyone tries to leave the scene of the accident before the police arrive. Do not say anything more than what is necessary to get insurance information.

People may try to use what you say against you by placing the blame for the accident on you, even as a passenger. It is also very possible that you are being recorded by either a dashcam or the cell phone of someone involved in the accident or even a bystander.

As soon as medically possible, write down all the details of the crash and take pictures of everything that you may need to remember later on.

The stress of the accident, combined with possible shock and injuries, make it easy to forget important facts that can help your case. Keeping these records for yourself also ensures that nothing gets lost or convoluted by the insurance companies or other parties involved.

Try to get as many witnesses as possible too. Get their names and contact information with a description of what they saw so that they can be contacted again if needed.

Your personal injury lawyer will want to contact these witnesses while building your claim for damages and establishing the negligence of the drivers.

Do Not Talk to Insurance Companies Without a Lawyer

The driver’s insurance company might contact you following the accident.

Be very careful with what you say because they will use it against you. They might offer you a settlement, but an initial settlement offer is usually very low and not enough to cover all your expenses.

Refer them to your lawyer to take care of the negotiations for you.

Only Discuss the Accident Details With Your Lawyer

If you feel that you may have been partially responsible for causing the accident, possibly by distracting the driver in some way, do not admit it to anyone other than your attorney.

There are many details that go into determining the cause of a motor vehicle collision, and your perceived part may have had no impact on causing it. Let the police and accident reconstruction specialists determine who was responsible, and your lawyer will investigate for you.

Contact Tatum & Atkinson For Help

If you were injured as a passenger in a car crash with a drunk driver, you will need a personal injury lawyer experienced with drunk driving accidents to prove that you had no fault in the accident so that you can claim damages.

Call Tatum & Atkinson, the Heavy Hitters, at (800) LAW-0804 to discuss your case and your options for getting compensation for your injuries.