Contributory Negligence: Research Shows 12% Of People Willing Passengers With Drunk Drivers

A survey of 1,000 motorists by insurance company Direct Line and road safety charity Brake found that 36% of people said that if their designated driver had drunk alcohol, they would refuse the offer of a journey, with 12% admitting that they have certainly been a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver. Furthermore, 10% of people say that they have either definitely or potentially driven while over the limit in the last year.

If you’ve been in a car accident involving a drunk driver and you were voluntarily in the car, you will probably see the overall value of your personal injury claim reduced. As the above statistics indicate, and as we all know, people are willing to put themselves in dangerous situations when they’re drunk, but this does not absolve them of responsibility should the driver crash.

Contributory Negligence And Drunk Drivers

The case of Booth v White (2003) affirmed that passengers do not have to ask a passenger whether or not they were above the limit, while Traynor v Donovan (1978) and Malone v Rowan (1984) ruled there was no contributory negligence in a case when there was no evidence to directly show a deceased passenger knew a driver had been drinking alcohol or was over the limit.

However, if it is reasonable to assume that the passenger was aware that the driver was drunk, then the UK’s personal injury laws have repeatedly confirmed that passengers hold contributory negligence for their injuries, and their compensation claims are reduced as a result.

Typically, claimants see themselves found guilty of 20% contributory negligence when they have willingly got into a vehicle with a driver they know or suspect has been drinking. This was seen in Owens v Brimmell (1977) and Green v Gaymer (1999), and sees claimants’ compensation reduced by 20%.

When people make risky decisions on their own volition, the courts deem that they should be held somewhat responsible for any injurious or damaging consequences of these decisions, but has historically still considered a drunk driver to be 80% responsible for any of their willing and informed adult passengers’ injuries. However, as knowledge of the dangers of drunk driving increases – along with knowledge of the dangers of improper seatbelt use – the 20% reduction might begin to seem old-fashioned.

The case of Darren Best v Damion Smyth (2010) saw further complications. Mr Best was drinking with Mr Smyth and decided to sit as a passenger in Mr Smyth’s van, despite knowing he was over the limit. Furthermore, he failed to wear a seatbelt. The defence said Mr Best’s level of contributory negligence should be 50%, which would have cut his personal injury compensation settlement in half.

The deduction for contributory negligence when passengers do not wear a seatbelt has been 25% since Froom v Butcher (1976), and the judge ruled that Mr Best’s deduction should be a total of 30%.¬† Mr Best was left paraplegic after the incident, and that 30% deduction could well cause financial problems down the line and render him and his carers unable to afford the equipment he needs.

Our personal injury solicitors warn the 12% of willing passengers and the 10% of admitted drunk-drivers in the Brake/Direct Line poll that the consequences of this decision could be far more catastrophic than they anticipate.