Q&A - Sapien Law Albuquerque

What if I’m injured as a passenger in a car that was hit by a drunk driver?

Whenever an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, he or she puts everybody else on or near the roadway at risk. A drunk driver is much more likely to be in a collision and often those collisions result in significant injuries and death to passengers, other motorists and pedestrians.

Our law firm has seen first-hand how drunk drivers impact the lives of their victims and their victims’ families including the passengers in the drivers’ own vehicle.

Even if the criminal court system prosecutes drunk drivers to the fullest extent of the law, criminal convictions will not fully compensate victims who were injured as a result of such a conscious disregard of others. That fact is especially disheartening if the victim was injured as a passenger. Another driver might be able to avoid or otherwise diminish the force of an impact with a drunk driver. A passenger can’t do anything except duck and cover if that’s at all possible.

Proving the negligence of a drunk driver

Negligence per se can occur when a person is guilty of a violation of law that’s meant to protect the general public, and protection of the general public is exactly what drunk driving laws are all about. In New Mexico, you would need to prove the following three elements:

– The defendant violated a statute or ordinance
– That violation was the proximate cause of the claimant’s injury or death
– The statute or ordinance was designed to protect the public from that kind of occurrence

When a drunk driver’s violation of a statute or ordinance proximately causes injuries to a person, negligence per se can be established.

Although compensation for injuries suffered by the victim of a drunk driver isn’t within the purview of the criminal courts, civil courts allow victims to seek compensation and legal damages award against drunk drivers. Those damages might consist of:

– Past, present and future medical bills
– Past, present and future loss of earnings and loss of future earnings capacity
– Any permanent disfigurement
– Any permanent or temporary disability
– Past, present and future Pain and suffering
– Loss of enjoyment of life (also known as hedonic damages)
– Funeral and burial costs in the event of a wrongful death

Punitive damages awarded to passengers of drunk drivers

The victim might also be allowed to seek punitive damages from the intoxicated driver who caused the crash. It’s well established law in New Mexico that an injured person is allowed to seek punitive damages from a drunk driver as a result of the drunk driver’s conscious disregard for the safety of others. The purpose of those punitive damages is to deter others from driving under the influence. Most Insurance companies don’t pay punitive damages awards under a standard auto liability policy. The passenger would need to collect those damages directly from the drunk driver or through their own Uninsured/Uninsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. It is recommended that you purchase at least $250,000/$500,000 in liability coverage through your auto insurer and also purchase the equal amount in UM/UIM coverage. Higher limits of coverage as also available so discuss this with your insurance agent or broker. It is especially important to purchase a large amount of UM/UIM coverage in New Mexico to cover your risk of the large uninsured or underinsured drivers.

The burden of proof against a drunk driver

In a criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof. A claimant need only prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. That lesser burden of proof means that the claimant’s version of the facts was more likely true than not true.

The possible case against the passenger’s drunk driver

If you are a passenger in a motor vehicle, it is highly likely that the driver is a family member or friend. Most people are apprehensive about filing a claim or lawsuit against a family member or friend, but if you were a passenger who was severely injured, the insurance policy of your driver might be considered for purposes of helping to cover damages. This is even more critical if the drunk driver was uninsured or underinsured. The passenger might even have a right of recovery under his or her own auto insurance. In addition, if the driver was also impaired then you would have a liability claim as a passenger against the driver of the vehicle in which you were a passenger.

No comparative negligence

Rarely does a passenger in a motor vehicle crash suffer injuries through his or her own fault. The law recognizes this reality. That places a passenger in a favorable legal position.


Preserve and protect the evidence and your rights. Take photos of the scene and video, if possible. If you were a passenger in a motor vehicle, and you were injured as a result of the carelessness and negligence of a drunk or even a sober driver, contact Sapien Law LLC. We are an experienced personal injury law firm. Our consultations are free consultation and we will provide a case evaluation and protect your legal rights to compensation. Please do not hesitate to contact Sapien Law LLC at (505) 842-5979.

Contact Information

OFFICE: (505) 842-5979

FAX: (505) 842-6002

ADDRESS: 1100 2nd St NW,
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Albuquerque, NM 87125


Monday – Thursday
8:30am – 12pm & 1pm – 4:30pm

8:30am – 12pm & 1pm – 3:30pm

Evening and weekend appointments
are available upon request.

Phillip G. Sapien
Rated by Super Lawyers

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