Attorney David J. King


Is a passenger entitled to sue the driver of a drunk driving accident?

On Behalf of | Mar 24, 2022 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

It’s no hidden fact that drunk driving is the cause of many vehicle accidents where the victims can sue for negligence. Yet, it’s often overlooked that a drunk driver might have a passenger involved in the accident.

If you’re a passenger who has been involved with a drunk driver in an accident, then you may be wondering, “Can I sue the driver?” Here are a few things you need to know:

Yes, but suing may not be cut-and-dry

Most states either operate on a comparative negligence rule or a contributory negligence rule when it comes to personal injuries. With comparative negligence, the amount plaintiffs can collect is reduced proportionately to how much they can be blamed for their own injuries. (In some cases, they can’t collect anything if they’re 50% or more to blame.) With contributory negligence, plaintiffs are 100% barred from collecting damages if they’re even 1% at fault for their own losses.

South Dakota, however, is unique in that it doesn’t exactly adhere to either rule. Plaintiffs who are “slightly” negligent are still able to pursue a claim. Those who are more than slightly negligent are barred.

What applies in any given situation will rely a lot on the facts of a case. For instance, if the passenger didn’t refuse to ride with the driver while acknowledging the driver was intoxicated, then the passenger may be substantially at fault, in the court’s eyes, for their own injuries.  Additionally, if the driver has some relationship with the passenger or is known to drink excessively, the fault could be on the passenger. 

However, if the passenger was given a ride by someone they didn’t know was intoxicated, then the fault might be considered less than “slight” and held in the victim’s favor. 

If you’ve been involved in a drunk driving accident as a passenger then you may need legal guidance that can help examine where the fault lies.