Can Passengers Seek Damages When Injured Riding with a Drunk Driver?

Posted by Jeremy Rosenthal | Jan 09, 2017 | 0 Comments

In Colorado civil actions where a party was injured or killed due to the negligence of another party, often there is an issue of contributory negligence. This scenario could result in instances where multiple parties, including the plaintiff, are determined to be partially responsible. In such cases, the plaintiff is “having contributed” to the overall negligence that caused the accident. The law does allow for recovery, so long as their negligence was less than the negligence that can be attributed to the party whom recovery is sought. In these situations, any awarded damages are proportionally reduced by the percentage of negligence that the plaintiff contributed. One such scenario is when a passenger is harmed in an accident while riding with a driver that they were aware was intoxicated.

Courts in Colorado have heard cases on several occasions where a passenger sought damages for injuries while riding with an intoxicated driver. Many of these cases have rested in the hands of a jury. One large point of contention relates to what instructions are provided to the juries prior to beginning their deliberations.

CO Supreme Court Pletchas v. Poppenheim

The lower court awarded damages for the Plaintiff, Mr. Poppenheim, who had been injured while he was a passenger in the vehicle of the Defendant, Mr. Pletchas. While traveling from New Mexico to Denver, the men purchased and consumed beer along the way. The parties had conflicting opinions regarding the amount of alcohol Mr. Pletchas consumed, and whether his ability to drive was impaired. During the trip, the driver lost control of the vehicle and slid down a mountain road causing injuries. The instructions the court provided the jury are summarized as follows:

  • A passenger entering a vehicle knowing that the driver is intoxicated and possibly unable to exercise care and caution is limited in recovery by way of contributory negligence. (they are assuming the risk)
  • Someone riding with a driver that they know is intoxicated, should vacate the vehicle if a reasonable means of doing so exists. The failure to leave the vehicle constitutes contributory negligence. The jury should consider this along with all other evidence.

The jury award of $7,700 for the Plaintiff was affirmed in this case. More recent cases, such as Wark v. McClellan in the CO Appeals Court have clarified the issue stating that passengers in cars operated by intoxicated individuals may be negligent for entering the vehicle initially. An instruction regarding comparative negligence is proper in these situations.

Denver Car Accident Attorney

When someone is injured due to the negligence, carelessness, or recklessness of another party, they may be able to receive compensation. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal has years of experience working on behalf of car accident victims. To put this experience to work for you, contact the office today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenthal

Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal is dedicated to helping his clients seek just compensation for their injuries regardless of the lengths he has to go to or the distances he may have to travel in order to get it.


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