5 Tips: Passengers of Driver At Fault in Car Accident
These days, even something as simple as riding in a car as a passenger can be fraught with risk. Traffic congestion in cities is horrendous, increasing the risk of accidents. Even worse, highway driving speeds sometimes make traveling feel like the Indy 500. Add to that the dangers posed by cell phones and other distracted driving habits. It’s no wonder then that injuries to passengers happen on a regular basis. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you may wonder: can I still make a claim if I’m a passenger in a car accident whose driver is at fault? As it turns out, when you ride as a passenger, the law considers the driver of the automobile as responsible for your safety. With that in mind, we have five tips for you to consider.
Recovering damages from your driver
If you are injured in a car accident, you hope that your driver carries auto insurance on his vehicle. The bodily injury liability portion of the driver’s insurance coverage pays for bodily injuries of other persons injured in an accident where the driver is at fault. This coverage includes the passengers in the driver’s own vehicle. If you are a family member, the insurance carrier may consider you a named insured under the policy. If you are not a family member, coverage may still remain available under the bodily injury portion as an injured third-party.
There is also another insurance policy provision that covers medical expenses and loss of income no matter who is at fault for the accident. Insurance companies often call this provision “personal injury protection” or “medical payments”coverage. The popular name for this coverage is “no-fault”. Limits vary by state from $2,500 per accident to $20,000. Coverage also varies by state; for example, some states cover different types of expenses, and some only over 80% leaving the injured person to cover the balance. If you live in a no-fault state, there is no need to prove fault. Each driver’s policy covers their expenses.
If you do not live in a no-fault state, then you live in a “tort” state which does not have restrictions on the right to sue to recover personal injury damages. The at-fault driver is generally responsible for paying claims for medical expenses, lost wages, legal fees, pain and suffering as well as funeral costs for injured individuals under the bodily injury portion of the policy. This applies even if the driver of the car in which you were a passenger is the one at fault.
In some states, drivers can share responsibility for the accident. If that is true in your case, then you will be allowed to file a passenger injury claim against the other driver as well.
Where the responsibility for a car accident is split between drivers based on their portion of fault, you will need to prove each driver’s portion of the fault, and they will each pay according to the percentages proved. Naturally, that means presenting evidence, calling expert witnesses, and hiring an attorney to help you sort things out. You will also need to present evidence of your medical expenses and lost wages in order to recover.
Recovering from the other driver
If the driver of the car you were riding in was 100% at fault, then you probably cannot recover from the driver of the other car under their insurance policy.
One thing to bear in mind is that bodily injury coverage often does not pay a lot of money. In most states, there is a minimum coverage amount required under all car insurance policies, and drivers often only pay for the minimum coverage. These limitations vary state by state and are often low, especially where the accident causes bodily injuries to multiple people. If the claims exceed the policy coverage amount, then the driver is responsible for paying the balance.
For example, Nevada’s minimum limits for bodily injury are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. If an accident causes injuries to two people amounting to $25,000 and $30,000, then the first person’s injuries would be covered at 100%. The second person would also receive $25,000. That leaves the person with the $30,000 claim responsible to look elsewhere for the balance of $5,000.
Passenger Assumption of Risk
Passengers generally are not responsible for the accident caused by the driver of a vehicle in which they were riding. However, passengers are responsible for not assuming the risk of riding with an impaired driver. If a passenger willingly gets into a vehicle with a driver they know to be intoxicated or a reckless driver, the insurance company may dismiss their claim on the theory that they assumed the risk of riding with that driver.
If you were injured in an accident caused by a driver under the influence but you did not know they were under the influence, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries if you can prove you did not assume the risk. For example, you can defend against the assumption of risk argument if you did not have actual knowledge of the risk or did not appreciate the danger. In this situation, hiring a personal injury attorney is the best way for you to prove you are entitled to your claim for compensation.
Some states have developed an assumption of risk defense, known as the seat belt defense, based on statutory provisions or case law. Not all states have fully developed seat belt defense rules.
Personal Lawsuit for Compensation
If your personal injury claim exceeds the amounts payable under the driver’s insurance policy, you may be able to sue the driver personally for the balance. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be indispensable in resolving your claim.
To learn how the seat belt defense works in comparative negligence cases in different states, you may enjoy the article from claimsjournal.com entitled “Seat Belt Defense in All 50 States.”
If you would like to talk to one of our attorneys about your personal injury claim from an auto accident, or anything else, please contact us. Our experienced staff will gladly answer all your questions. We invite you to make us your resource for all your legal questions.