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Around 1 a.m. on December 30, 2007 an SUV was traveling down Highway 507 in Roy, Washington, when it crossed into oncoming traffic, causing a three car collision. The driver of the SUV and its four passengers were transported to the hospital from the scene of the accident. Two people in each of the other involved cars were also taken to the hospital. Police believe that alcohol or drugs may have been a factor in the crash.

In any case where intoxication is suspected it’s important to obtain medical evidence that an at-fault driver was in fact intoxicated. In some cases it will be important to determine whether a passenger was intoxicated, based on the following Washington statute:

RCW 5.40.060
Defense to personal injury or wrongful death action — Intoxicating liquor or any drug.

(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, it is a complete defense to an action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death that the person injured or killed was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug at the time of the occurrence causing the injury or death and that such condition was a proximate cause of the injury or death and the trier of fact finds such person to have been more than fifty percent at fault. The standard for determining whether a person was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs shall be the same standard established for criminal convictions under RCW 46.61.502, and evidence that a person was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs under the standard established by RCW 46.61.502 shall be conclusive proof that such person was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.

(2) In an action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death that is brought against the driver of a motor vehicle who was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug at the time of the occurrence causing the injury or death and whose condition was a proximate cause of the injury or death, subsection (1) of this section does not create a defense against the action notwithstanding that the person injured or killed was also under the influence so long as such person’s condition was not a proximate cause of the occurrence causing the injury or death.

In the past intoxicated drivers who were sued often defended the case on the basis that their passengers were also intoxicated. That defense is still powerful because it bars a claim where (1) a passenger is intoxicated; (2) his or her intoxication was a “proximate cause” of the occurrence (usually, the accident) and (3) the passenger is more than fifty percent at fault for his or her injuries.

Even if the claim is not barred, a passenger’s intoxication may constitute comparative fault and proportionately reduce any recovery.

But when is the passenger’s intoxication a “cause”? When is it “fault”?

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.

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