As with many legal questions, the answer is “yes and no.” It depends on who is at fault in the accident and your relationship to your passenger. It also depends on the particular laws of the state you were in when the crash occurred.
Passengers cannot be deemed liable for an accident. So it’s typically easier for a passenger to file a claim after an auto accident than it is for a driver. But these cases can get complicated very quickly. Let’s delve into the details of passenger injury claims.
Q: How to determine liability in a one-car accident?
A: If you were driving with a passenger and crashed your vehicle into a tree, a pole or a wall, you will likely be found liable for the accident. In this case, your passenger could file a claim against your insurance company. If the claim is approved, your insurance company would then pay the passenger damages. These could include medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages if he or she is unable to work. For more information on what damages and compensation an accident victim can be awarded, read our article here. If you are found liable for the accident, your insurance premiums could go up as a result. But some insurance companies and policies offer “forgiveness” for your first accident. You will have to check with your insurance company regarding the details of your policy. However, if you were driving safely but had to swerve quickly because an animal or a child suddenly ran into the road, you might be deemed not at fault for the accident. In this case, your passenger would likely not be able to file a claim against your insurance company.
Q: How to determine liability in a multiple-car accident?
A: If you were involved in a collision with one or more vehicles, one or more drivers will be found liable. One driver may be deemed wholly at fault. Or, because Arizona is a comparative fault state, drivers can be found liable for a percentage of the accident. For example, one driver may be 60 percent liable and the other driver 40 percent to blame. Your passenger can file a claim against the at-fault driver or drivers. He or she could recoup damages from both drivers’ insurance companies according to their degree of fault. So, if you were deemed 20 percent liable, your insurance company would pay 20 percent of the damages to the passenger. If the other driver were deemed 80 percent to blame, the other driver’s insurance company would pay 80 percent. Determining liability in an auto accident is not easy, especially when one has to put a percentage on it. Each driver’s insurance company will naturally try to place less blame on their own driver. This can result in time-consuming and nerve-wracking negotiations. It’s smart in situations like these to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. An attorney can investigate the accident using police reports, accident recreation techniques, photographs, eye-witness testimony, video surveillance footage, the vehicle's black box, medical bills, and more. He or she will take care of all communication and negotiation with the insurance company or companies. The Lamber-Goodnow Personal Injury Legal Team offers free consultations for people involved in auto accidents. There is no obligation or up-front costs. We get paid only if you get paid.
Q: When your passenger is a family member or friend?
A: If your passenger is a spouse or family member and you live with them, they typically cannot file a claim against your insurance policy. This is especially true if the vehicle is jointly owned by you and the passenger. Most states consider a married couple to be, essentially, one entity. Auto insurance policies normally do not allow spouses or other household members to make a claim against your own liability policy in the event of an accident. Part of the reasoning behind this to prevent fraud. If it were possible for a wife to sue her husband following an accident, a couple could collude to get into an accident merely to collect money from the insurance company. There can be exceptions to this rule depending on which state the accident occurred in and the specifics of your insurance policy. If you find yourself in a legal gray area, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
It is certainly an emotionally difficult situation when a passenger has to file a claim against a driver who is a friend. But remember, the passenger is filing a claim against your insurance company, not against you personally. Passengers can be severely injured in accidents, particularly in T-bone accidents where the car is struck in the side. Your passenger may have very high medical bills and may lose wages if he or she is unable to work temporarily or permanently. Your friend cannot be expected to shoulder these costs and losses without help.