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Can a Passenger Be Held Liable for a Drunk Driving Accident if They Knew the Driver Was Impaired?


Typically, when a drunk driver causes a car accident, they will be solely responsible for the resulting damages and injuries. In fact, in some cases, an impaired motorist may even be ordered to pay punitive damages to the victim. But what about a passenger’s liability? Can a passenger be held liable for the crash caused by a drunk motorist if they knew the driver was impaired?

As evident from a recent drunk driving accident in Nashville, yes, they can.

Passenger Charged with Vehicular Homicide in a Drunk Driving Crash in Nashville

According to WSMV, a driver and their passenger were charged with two counts of vehicular homicide following a collision that killed two people. The fatal crash occurred on Bell Road in Nashville.

The 23-year-old driver was charged with vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular assault, as well as driving without a license. The passenger was also charged with two counts of vehicular homicide after she sold police she knew the driver had been consuming alcohol before the crash.

Cases like these are not uncommon in Tennessee and some other states. A passenger can be convicted of vehicular homicide with the drunk driver of the vehicle. However, not all passengers are held responsible for the acts of an impaired driver. It is vital to consult with a Nashville DUI accident attorney to determine whether a passenger can be held liable for a drunk driving crash.

When Can a Passenger Be Held Liable for a Drunk Driving Accident?

Under Tennessee’s comparative negligence statute, a passenger can be held partially or even equally liable for the collision caused by a drunk driver. Regardless of whether the passenger was intoxicated or not, they can be held liable for the resulting DWI crash if they:

  • Encouraged the intoxicated motorist to operate the vehicle;
  • Let the drunk driver operate the vehicle despite knowing that doing so could pose a danger to others on the road; or
  • Gave the car keys to an obviously impaired person and allowed them to drive (when the vehicle is their own).

What is Tennessee’s ‘DUI by Consent’ Law?

There is also a law called “DUI by consent” in Tennessee. What it means is that an owner of a motor vehicle can be charged with DUI by consent when their vehicle is operated by an impaired driver.

Thus, the owner of a vehicle can be charged if they were riding along in the car or simply gave the car keys to an intoxicated person. However, it must be proven that the person was visibly intoxicated when the owner of the vehicle allowed them to drive. Otherwise, the owner will not be charged with DUI by consent.

As you can see, the liability of passengers for driving while impaired depends on the circumstances surrounding each case. For this reason, it is important to be represented by a Nashville car accident attorney in order to determine liability in your particular case. Schedule a case review by contacting Calhoun Law, PLC. Call at 615-375-4773 for a consultation.




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