Driver's Intoxication and Passenger's Knowledge

Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2016 by Ed Harper

Driver’s Intoxication and Plaintiff’s Passenger’s Knowledge

Washington Pattern Instruction (WPI) 12.01.01 states the following: “If you find that:

1) A driver was intoxicated from the use of alcohol or drugs; and

2) The plaintiff voluntary rode in the vehicle driven by such person after plaintiff knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have know, of the driver’s intoxication; and

3) A reasonable person with such knowledge and using ordinary care for his or her own safety would not have ridden in the vehicle; and

4) The driver’s intoxication was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury or damages;

Then the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.”

Herein lies the rub. If you get in a car, knowing the driver to have been drinking, the jury will be instructed as to your knowledge of the driver’s inebriation.

The case of Wold v. Gardner, 159 Wash. 665 (1930) and* Miller v Treat, 57 Wn.2d 524 (1960) provides some illumination into the heart of this matter and whether the plaintiff can be considered partially at fault for their own injuries. In *Wold, the plaintiff was a back seat passenger in a car driven by Gardner. A trip was planned leaving Stanwood and venturing across the border into Canada. Along the way, the driver and passengers were drinking. On the way back home to Stanwood, around 1 a.m., while they were just north of Mt. Vernon, the vehicle driven by Gardner struck a disabled vehicle that was partially in the southbound lane. This collision led to second motor vehicle collision (companion case Wolden v. Gardner). Plaintiff Otto Wold was injured. He brought a claim against Gardner for proximately causing his injuries. The appellate court was asked to determine whether Otto Wold’s knowledge of Gardner’s inebriation and to what extent should go to a jury. One factor in this case which should be considered was the long stretch of time between drinking, eating, and driving. A passenger must act like a reasonably prudent person in getting in, and staying in the vehicle.

In Miller, a group of young people were drinking together. Miller was injured when a vehicle driven by Treat made an unsafe lane change. She was riding in a vehicle driven by her friend at speeds upwards of 80 miles an hour immediately before the crash. The defense for Treat stated that Ms. Miller should not have the ability to sue him, as she was contributorily negligent in staying in a vehicle that was driving at such speeds. However, the court held “Whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol and whether the passenger knew or should have known of the driver’s intoxication are still questions for the jury.” Miller at 273. Further, the court stated “under the law of this state, a guest’s knowledge of consumption of alcoholic beverages by his host driver does not in every case impute to the guest knowledge of the host’s intoxication as a matter of law.” Miller at 274.

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