Injured passenger not liable for possible marijuana use by driver

Photo:  Trial Exhibit from the case

Photo:  Trial Exhibit from the case

Now that marijuana has been decriminalized in Washington state, issues are going to arise about driving under the influence.  Unlike alcohol which only transiently stays in the body and can be detected with various tests, the detection of marijuana is a bit more complicated.

In this case, a van driver  plowed through a stop sign into an intersection without touching his brakes. He smashed into a small car coming from his right.   That car had the right of way.  It had no stop or yield sign.  It was travelling within the speed limit.

During the lawsuit, the defense tried to turn the tables by blaming the plaintiff car passenger for causing the crash.

Even though the car driver did nothing wrong while driving, the defense claimed he reacted too slowly.   They argued that he should have predicted that the van would blow the stop sign and that he should have taken evasive action.  They banked their argument on the finding in his system of a byproduct of marijuana known as carboxy-THC.

At the scene, the police saw no signs of intoxication of the car driver.  Forensic toxicologists determined there was a little carboxy-THC in the car driver's body.  Carboxy-THC stays in the blood stream for quite a while, even if you are not using marijuana.  The car driver said he didn't use pot before the crash.

The defense said the plaintiff was at fault because she got into the car with a driver who was under the influence.

My partners Paul Stritmatter, Garth Jones and I, along with co-counsel, proactively brought a motion for summary judgment against the claim that the plaintiff was comparatively at fault.

This defense was ultimately thrown out of court.  Here is the brief: Pl's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.