What are my rights as a passenger in a car accident?
As a passenger with injuries in a car accident, you have rights. In most cases, you cannot be found at fault, so you normally have the right to recover the entire amount of your damages and injuries.
This article discusses passenger injuries in car accidents, how to file a claim, how to determine a possible settlement amount, and your overall rights as a passenger in a car accident.
Passenger in Car Accident Settlements
In any personal injury car accident case, liability is usually important to prove. The plaintiff has to show that the defendant was liable for the crash. Second, they must show that the actions of the defendant led to the plaintiff’s accident injuries.
However, when a passenger is injured in a car accident, the personal injury claim is often easier. This is because liability is less of an issue: One or other of the drivers is responsible, and one or both of them will have to pay for your accident injuries. In virtually all two-vehicle accidents, one driver or the other will be found negligent. It is almost unheard of for a two-car crash to not have one of the drivers blamed.
In a one-car accident, such as the driver slamming into a tree, the driver is usually found to be negligent. Generally, when a driver strikes something, they generally are found to have done/not done something that constitutes negligence.
Occasionally, there are car accidents where the passenger is found partially liable. For example, if you grabbed the steering wheel and this led to the crash, your recovery could be lowered by the share of the fault you had in the accident. If you were found to be 20% at fault for the crash, your recovery would be reduced by 20%.
Passenger Car Accident Injuries
As with any other car accident, passenger injuries can be very serious. Below are some of the most frequent car accident injuries that passengers suffer:
- Head and back: Head injuries are the most severe of injuries in a car accident. Drivers and passengers in car collisions may slam their heads into the windows, dashboards or wheels. This can cause a traumatic brain injury or TBI. Back injuries also may involve back muscles and discs. In the worst cases, there could be damage to the spinal cord.
- Neck and chest: A passenger in a car accident can suffer from whiplash, which is damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck. The level of injury with whiplash can vary from person to person. The chest area can have severe trauma that includes cracked or broken ribs, trauma to the heart, lungs, liver or spleen. People who have heart problems can even enter cardiac arrest.
- Other injuries: Passengers may suffer broken arms, legs, hands and feet. Cuts and scrapes from broken glass are common. Emotional trauma can be severe as well.
All of these potential accident injuries can leave you without the ability to work or to pay your medical bills. But car passengers do have rights when they are injured in accidents. You have the right to obtain compensation for your medical bills and lost wages from the driver who is responsible for the accident.
The question is in these accidents: On which auto insurance policy should you file your claim?
Filing A Claim for Passenger Injuries – Other Driver
If you are hurt in an accident as a passenger, the first option is to file a lawsuit or claim against the driver who is liable for the accident. In most states, drivers must carry a state minimum amount of liability coverage. In that amount of required coverage, there is property damage liability and bodily injury liability. BI insurance will cover your accident injuries and it pays up to a certain limit for each person. There also is a limit for the entire crash. For instance, in New York, the minimum BI insurance is $25,000 for each person and $50,000 for each incident.
There are commonly some obstacles involved with filing a claim for passenger injuries with the other driver’s policy. First, the other driver’s policy may not have enough coverage to pay for your injuries. If only you were hurt, it may be sufficient. But if there were several passengers or drivers injured, that amount has to be divided between all parties. The more injured people, the less it is likely that your injuries will be fully covered.
The odds are lower if the driver who is liable only has minimum levels of insurance. In some states such as Arizona and California, the state minimum is just $30,000 per car accident. If you have medical costs of $60,000 and others were hurt, you might only recover a few thousand dollars. In the worse case, your claim could be denied if there are no more insurance benefits available.
Also, filing a claim through the other driver’s policy can be a major headache. In some accidents, it is unclear exactly who was at fault. If that is true in your passenger injury case, it could take weeks or months to decide who was at fault. If fault is fuzzy, it may benefit you to hire a personal injury attorney to obtain fair compensation for your passenger car accident injuries.
Filing a Claim through Your Friend’s Policy
Another option: file your injury claim through the insurance policy of the person who drove the car you occupied. The easiest way is to use your friend’s Personal Injury Protection or PIP coverage. Another possibility is to use the person’s Medical Payments or MedPay benefits. Both of these types of insurance cover all car passengers. They are considered to be ‘first party benefits.’ This means that your car’s driver can file a claim, and no matter who was to blame, will receive compensation for medical costs.
As a passenger in a car accident with injuries, this may be your best bet. You will probably enjoy fast reimbursement for your injuries. Your rates will not increase, either. On the down side, PIP only is required in 12 states, and MedPay is not mandatory in any state at this time. If the accident did not happen in a state with PIP, your driver probably does not have this type of insurance.
If your car driver lacks PIP or MedPay, another choice is to file through their bodily injury policy. But if the driver is a friend or is a member of your ‘non-immediate’ family, you may not want to do this. Who wants to sue the driver as a passenger in a car accident when you are friends or family?
This is an entirely understandable feeling, but think about it this way: You are not really going after them yourself for money. You merely are filing a claim on their insurance policy. You would simply file an insurance claim on their insurance policy to get a certain amount of money to pay for your medical costs and lost wages. Your friend or family member does not have anything else to do with the claim.
File a Claim On Your Insurance Policy
Filing a claim for your passenger injuries on your own policy is another option. Why would you do this? You were not driving, so how would that work? If your policy features PIP or MedPay coverage, this could be used to pay for your medical costs. But as you personally are filing a claim, it will probably cause your rates to increase. Also, PIP and MedPay have limited benefits. It means that severe accident injuries probably will not be fully covered. But such a claim would likely at least pay for your medical bills.
If you have a health insurance policy, you also may use it to pay for your accident medical bills. It is possible that you may have to use all of your auto insurance benefits first. Health insurance providers can vary widely in how they handle this situation, so you should check with your health insurance company.
Average Injured Passenger Settlement
Before you file a claim with any insurance company, it is critical to determine how much your accident injuries are worth. This should be a reasonable amount that you would take for giving up the right to go to court to settle the matter. Many insurance companies use various formulas to get a rough idea where to start for a settlement in a car accident case.
Below is an example of the parts that you should consider as you are adding up a possible settlement amount for car accident injuries as a passenger. For more serious accidents, it is recommended to use a personal injury attorney to help you to arrive at an accurate figure. The attorney also will have experience in conducting negotiations with insurance companies:
- Total medical expenses
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Future lost income
- Future medical costs
- Multiplier for non-economic damages – this is for pain and suffering that you have endured. Depending upon how serious the injuries are, you may want to use a multiplier of 4 or 5, times the above economic damages. For less serious injuries, a multiplier of 2 or 3 is appropriate.
All car accident injury cases are different. Therefore, it is challenging to state with any certainty what type of compensation you can anticipate in your case. Some cases with minor injuries could be settled for $3000. Serious accident cases can settle for $250,000, $500,000 or more. Personal injury attorneys can access recent settlements and verdicts in your part of the country.
That is why it is useful to consult with a personal injury attorney in many accident cases. Initial consultations with personal injury attorneys are usually free of charge. Talk to an attorney if you want to get a good idea of the size of a potential claim for your passenger injuries.