I’m a Passenger in a Car Accident, Can I Sue?

03/22/2019
By Logan Quirk

A lot of the information you find online talks about a driver’s liability and their injuries. But what happens when you’re a passenger in a car accident? If you’re injured while riding in someone else’s car, who is responsible for your damages and medical bills?

Anatomy of a Car Accident

Any time two or more cars are involved in an accident, one of the drivers is usually at fault. The driver is controlling the vehicle and making decisions about how to drive. When they are negligent, it might result in an accident. Some of the most obvious types of negligence by a driver are texting while driving, driving under the influence, and speeding.

Initially, victims of a car wreck file an insurance claim to get compensation for their damages. Depending on the state where the crash occurs, the victims of the car crash will either file a claim with their own insurance company or with the at-fault party’s insurance company.

The laws relating to car crashes and lawsuits differ among the states. In no-fault states, the insurance claims work the same regardless of who is at fault. You file a claim with your own insurance company no matter who was at fault.

In fault states like California, establishing fault is an essential first step. If you are the driver who caused the accident, your insurance company will pay the other party’s damages and injuries. If the other driver is at fault, you will file a claim with their insurance company.

car accident

Establishing Fault in a Car Accident

Proving fault is the first step in creating legal liability, but it doesn’t always happen quickly. Insurance companies often disagree about which party is at fault. It might take weeks or months to investigate before a decision is made. They will look at the accident report, talk to any witnesses, and review statements of all involved parties. Even then, the issue of fault might remain an area of conflict.

Fault matters whether you were a driver or passenger in a car accident. If the driver of the car you were riding in was at fault, they are responsible for your damages. If it was the other driver, they are. Passengers are at just as great a risk of being injured during an accident as the driver. As a passenger, you will get the insurance information for each driver involved. Since California is a comparative fault state, both drivers might be partially at fault. If you sue, you might have to sue both drivers to receive the full amount for your damages.

Fault is based on the driver’s negligence or a willful act which causes a wreck. Some of the ways they might cause a wreck include:

  • Taking their eyes off the road
  • Changing the radio station
  • Texting
  • Eating
  • Reading
  • Any intentional act that requires them to take their hands off the steering wheel

Some things, like hitting a pothole in the road or sliding on a slick road, aren’t the fault of the driver. Events that are out of their control aren’t negligence.

Also, if a deer jumps in front of their vehicle and causes the wreck, it isn’t the driver’s fault. If they run into a tree because they aren’t paying attention, they are completely negligent.

Sometimes drivers have too much confidence in their ability to multi-task while they drive. Shaving, putting on makeup, or getting something out of the back seat are just some of the reasons drivers have given for losing control of their vehicle.

While these are a little more over the top, it’s not that difficult to cause an accident. Thousands of accidents happen across the country every day. Although fault is usually assigned to one driver or another, it isn’t always the case.

There are exceptions to the rule, which can result in the passenger’s liability in an accident. In California, passengers are prohibited from willfully interfering with the driver in a manner which affects their control of the vehicle. That means that the driver could challenge you if they feel you were responsible for causing them to wreck. They must have proof that you are at fault. Simply accusing you isn’t enough.

Although you aren’t at fault for the accident, there are some situations where you might not be able to collect compensation, such as getting into the car with a drunk driver.

Proving Damages

The passenger in a car accident must prove two things: Liability (who is at fault for the accident) and their damages (the extent of their injuries and the cost of treatment.) In addition, you can sue for lost wages and future earnings. You also have the right to compensation for modifications you make to your home or car due to your injuries. Even though your car wasn’t damaged in the wreck, you can pursue damages for any property you lost. Anything like your laptop or cell phone that gets damaged or destroyed is included.

What You Need to Know About Auto Insurance

If you are the passenger in a car accident caused by the driver of another car, the at-fault driver’s insurance is responsible for paying you compensation. If the driver whose car you are riding in is at fault, getting compensation gets more complicated. Most of us drive with passengers all the time without worrying about the consequences of a wreck. We assume that our insurance is there to protect us in case something goes wrong.

What many don’t realize is that the liability coverage on their policy often only covers passengers in other vehicles. Many people don’t have coverage for passengers in their own vehicles. In some states, full coverage car insurance with medical coverage or uninsured/underinsured coverage isn’t required. It is optional in most states, but people often take as little insurance as the law allows. Every state has specific requirements about the types and amounts of coverage drivers must have on their vehicles. In California, it is

  • Bodily Injury Liability Coverage: $15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident
  • Property Damage Liability Coverage: $5,000 minimum
  • Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage: $15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident minimum
  • Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage: $3,500 minimum

If you are a passenger in a car accident of a driver with the minimum insurance requirements, they may not have the coverage needed to pay any or all of your damages. If they have medical payments coverage, it will only pay up to the limits they have purchased. What’s more, if the driver is a relative or you live with them, you probably won’t be able to file a claim against their insurance policy. This makes you an insured under the policy, prevent you from making a claim.

If the other driver proves to be at fault, you can file a claim for compensation up to the limits. If they have the minimum coverage, the most you can get for your medical bills is $15,000. If you have received serious injuries, this amount won’t pay the cost of your current treatment. If you require ongoing treatment, the costs could go to many times this amount. Even if you have health insurance, it won’t pay the entire cost of your medical treatment.

Regardless of which driver was at fault, you may end up filing a personal injury lawsuit to get compensation. If the limits of their insurance aren’t enough to pay all of your damages, you have the right to sue for the remainder. If the other driver’s insurance company doesn’t want to pay, it might take a lawsuit to work out a settlement.

If the driver of the car you were a passenger in is at fault, you might file a personal injury lawsuit with them directly. Not everyone has the funds to pay a settlement out-of-pocket. A personal injury attorney can advise you on your options for getting the compensation you deserve.

You should realize that if your health insurance pays for treatment now, the insurance company might recoup its costs if you win your lawsuit. Your attorney will help calculate and prove your damages resulting from the accident.

passenger in a car accident

What to Do If You Are a Passenger in a Car Accident

Collect insurance information from both drivers, even if the fault seems obvious. If the other driver is even partly at-fault, you might need to sue both drivers to get the full amount of your damages.

Collect as much evidence as possible at the accident scene. Use your cell phone to take pictures and get names of witnesses. Having more evidence could help make the process of determining fault go a lot faster. When two drivers share the blame, their insurance companies often get locked into a debate about which one was the most at fault. You could end up waiting a lot longer to get a fair settlement.

Don’t dismiss the idea of suing a friend or a loved one. It’s usually the insurance company that you’ll be suing. Also, don’t ignore the need for treatment if your injuries aren’t severe. You don’t want to miss your chance to file a claim when your injuries get worse instead of better.

Get the medical attention you need. Even if you don’t have health insurance, get the treatment you need for your injuries. Talk with the hospital or treatment facility about your situation. They may work out payment options or advise you about programs like Medicaid that can help. Postponing treatment could make your condition worse. It could also hurt your case if you end up suing the responsible party.

Wrongful Death: When a Loved One Dies as a Passenger in a Car Accident

Wrongful death is one that occurs when a person’s injuries are severe enough to take their life. When a person dies as a result of the injuries they incur as a passenger in a car accident, some family members can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. The damages in a wrongful death case include any medical bills resulting from their medical treatment. You can also claim funeral costs, loss of consortium, and other damages. The at-fault driver is liable for the loss of the individual and the pain and suffering that loss caused their family.

Get a Personal Injury Attorney

Don’t wait until you “hear something” from the insurance company to act. Talk with a personal injury attorney about your case. Most people don’t understand their own auto insurance policies. The laws about filing claims and assigning fault in an automobile accident are even more complex. Only an experienced attorney knows the law and your rights according to the state where you live.

Many people don’t realize that they have a time limit to file a personal injury claim. This statute of limitations differs from state to state.  In California, you have two years from the date of the accident. If you miss the deadline, you can lose your right to pursue compensation.

Finding who is at fault for an accident isn’t always as clear cut as it seems. An attorney knows how to read the evidence and apply the law to what took place. They will tell you if your case is a valid one, and the approximate value that it’s worth.

Some people worry about the expense of hiring an attorney when they’re already struggling with medical bills. They think an attorney will take their case to make money, even if they have little or no chance of winning. That simply isn’t the case.

Hire an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Experience is the single most important quality in a personal injury attorney. Logan Quirk is an experienced personal injury attorney who takes a different approach to get results for his clients. If you’ve been injured as a passenger in a car accident, contact Quirk Law Group today.  Get the attention and dedication you need for your case.

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