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Is it Negligence if a Personal Injury Victim Was Drunk Driving?

If you searched for and found this article, chances are your search regarding how alcohol relates to negligence or an accident. Perhaps you were the driver and you consumed alcohol, and the accident resulted in injury to another. Perhaps you were the injured party, and either you or the driver of the other vehicle had ingested alcohol. Perhaps you were a passenger in the vehicle, you were injured, and you were aware that the driver was intoxicated.

However you got to this point, the question is interesting from a legal perspective. In Massachusetts, we have a doctrine called comparative negligence. It has to do with the portion of blame that goes to each party involved in an accident. So regardless of your experience, the consumption of alcohol is a relevant issue.

First, let's reiterate how comparative negligence works. The total negligence of all parties must be calculated by the jury. The jury then assesses the percentage of liability attributable to each party. For example, the plaintiff might be 10% negligent, while the defendant is 90% negligent: whatever award the jury awards to the plaintiff would be reduced by 10% in that hypothetical. When the plaintiff's negligence is equal to or greater than that of the defendant, the plaintiff's recovery is barred, meaning the plaintiff receives nothing in that scenario.

As we talk about the relevance of alcohol consumption in a discussion of liability allocation, it's important to remember that drinking alcohol is generally a social activity. So, when assessing negligence based on the consumption of alcohol, it must be assessed against all parties involved the activity and drinking.

Is it negligence if the party was drunk driving? Specifically, is it negligence per se? Does the plaintiff have to prove anything beyond the fact that the other party had been drinking and then was involved in an accident to assess liability against the party?

The fact is, a party drinking and then operating a vehicle drunk is not by itself proof of negligence. This is a piece of evidence which may be submitted to the jury, and the jury may assess the evidence as it pleases. The jury may discount the evidence's relevancy, or it may assign great weight to that evidence.

The lesson really is that evidence equates to negligence per se in an extremely narrow set of circumstances. In almost every scenario, a piece of evidence, no matter how bad it seems, is still only evidence of negligence. The situation must be viewed in its entirety--that is, in the totality of circumstances. With matters of liability, the details are extremely important. If you have a personal injury case, discuss your case with a competent personal injury attorney.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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