If you’re a passenger involved in an auto collision, the good news is you won’t be held liable for the accident. You are entitled to be compensated for your medical bills, ambulance costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and qualifying out-of-pocket expenses. (There is one caveat to this; see below.)
The challenge is that passenger cases can be complicated since you may have to negotiate with two drivers and their insurance companies. It may be helpful to speak with a personal injury attorney for advice. Here is an overview of what you need to know.
Should you file a lawsuit?
If you are injured as a passenger, you can file a claim with your health insurance carrier to cover your medical bills and related expenses such as ambulance fees and lost wages.
If you do not have this type of coverage or if you have extensive injuries, you can also file a claim against one or both drivers who caused the accident. Speak with an attorney about filing this type of lawsuit if:
• You have extensive and severe injuries
• You cannot work after the accident
• You are permanently disabled due to your accident-related injuries
• The insurance company is refusing to pay your bills
• The insurance company will not offer you a fair settlement
If you were involved in a two-vehicle collision, one or both of the drivers will be found liable in almost every instance. If both drivers are potentially liable, you should get the insurance information and contact information from both drivers since you may be filing a claim against both drivers’ insurance companies.
In a comparative fault state (such as Arizona), drivers can be found liable for a percentage of the accident. For example, one driver may be 60 percent at fault and the other 40 percent at fault. The drivers’ insurance companies will have to pay the respective percentages of the claim to the injured passenger(s). Often, the drivers’ insurance companies will not agree on how much the drivers were at fault. Each company may say, for example, that its driver was 40 percent at fault. In this situation, you may find the help of a personal injury lawyer invaluable.
If the driver of the vehicle you were riding in crashed into an object such as a telephone pole or a wall, he or she will likely be deemed liable. In this case, you would file a claim against the driver’s insurance company. If the driver was not negligent but, for example, hit an animal that suddenly ran into the road, he or she might not be deemed at fault for the accident.
There is an exception to the general rule that a passenger cannot be deemed at fault in an accident. If you knowingly get into a car with a driver who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that driver causes an accident, your insurance company may deny your claim since you willingly took on the risk of riding with an impaired driver.
If the collision took place in a no-fault state, you would file a no-fault claim against the driver(s). In a no-fault case, certain elements must exist before a claim is paid out to accident victims. These elements are:
• The accident occurred while riding in a motorized vehicle
• Someone was injured
• The motor vehicle was being used in the correct capacity
• There is a connection between the vehicle and the injury sustained
If you are injured in an accident and file your claim under no-fault insurance, you may be compensated for economic losses. Some examples of economic losses are:
• Doctor bills
• Ambulance fees
• Hospital costs
• Lost wages
• Household or childcare services if you cannot perform these duties
In most states, an application for a no-fault claim must be filed within 30 days after the accident. It is important to note that no-fault insurance limits the amount of medical bills covered after an accident. If the no-fault insurance company does not cover excessive medical bills, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver or drivers who caused the accident.
Steps to take after an accident
Whether you’re involved in a collision in a no-fault state or a comparative fault state, you should follow the same procedures immediately after the accident. Consult our guide outlining what to do following an accident, including taking photos, filing a police report, and seeking medical care.
An attorney will let you know what rights you have as a passenger and how to proceed with filing your claim. Your attorney may help you win your case by hiring accident investigators to prove liability, negotiating with the insurance company, filing your case in court, and more.
The Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law Team offers free consultations for auto accident victims. We don’t get paid until you get paid.