As with most areas of law, suing when you get hurt while drunk is very situational. Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals answered this question in Lovett v. Univ. Place Owner’s Ass’n, 2022-NCCOA-594. To read the full case and find other cases, check out https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinion-filings/?c=coa.
In this case, the plaintiff is suing a few property owners for wrongful death. The decedent showed up drunk to an establishment, got more drunk, and jumped in a lake twice. After the second jump, he didn’t come back up.
North Carolina has a contributory negligence. That means you’re barred from recovering under a negligence theory if you are also negligent when the damage arose. However, you can still recover if you are negligent if the other party is grossly negligent. This is an oversimplification, but is what you need to know for this article.
The court, in this case, determined that being drunk is certainly a contributorily negligent factor. Therefore, the court had to determine if the defendants were grossly negligent. In order to be grossly negligent, there has to be willful and wanton negligence. In this case, the court found there was a deliberate purpose not to discharge some duty necessary to the safety of the person of another.
Therefore, the court found the defendants acted grossly negligent. Consequently, the court has to determine if being drunk, that drunk, was also gross negligence. Whereas regular negligence would not bar recovery from gross negligence, gross negligence on the part of the decedent would bar recovery against gross negligence.
The decedent’s blood alcohol level was .37 after his body was pulled from the lake. That’s a substantial amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. Because his drunkenness was voluntary, the court concluded that level of drunkenness, and jumping in the lake twice, constitutes gross negligence on the decedent’s behalf.
The court concluded that the decedent was grossly negligent. Therefore, he, and his representatives, would be barred from recovery under regular or gross negligence. So, if you get hurt while drunk, sometimes you can’t recover.