As an injured passenger, unlike a driver, it is unlikely anyone will attempt to assess any liability on the passenger for the collision. The passenger generally looks to determine which driver caused the collision or if there were multiple causes for the collision. This determination is extremely important because in some instances a passenger will be excluded from coverage by their driver’s insurance carrier.
There are some important things to remember when seeking compensation for your accident-related expenses.
Types of Damages Available in a Personal Injury Case
You can seek compensation for the following accident-related expenses:
- Medical care, including emergency room visits, surgery, hospital stays, follow-up care, and necessary medication.
- Anticipated future medical needs, if you have suffered disabling injuries.
- Lost wages for the time you were unable to work due to your injuries.
- Loss of future earning potential, if you have suffered disabling injuries.
- Pain and suffering, including both the physical pain and the emotional trauma of the accident.
Figuring Out Who Is Liable for Your Injuries
The first step in any personal injury case is figuring out who is financially responsible for your expenses. When the police come to investigate an accident, if there is sufficient evidence to make a conclusion, they will typically assign fault to one or more parties. However, a police officer’s investigation may be wrong or incomplete. This means that the passenger needs to investigate the facts more completely after the accident is over. This investigation may result in finding fault with one or more individuals or entities:
- The driver of the car in which the passenger was riding.
- The driver of the other vehicle or vehicles.
- Multiple drivers, in accordance with their percentage of fault.
- The vehicle owner, if the driver at fault was operating a vehicle belonging to someone else.
- Employers of one or more drivers
- Government entities for defective or avoidably dangerous road conditions
If you attempt to collect damages from more than one party, keep in mind the total amount of damages is generally allocated between the parties by their respective fault. In California, the law allows an injured party to collect all their out of pocket damages (called special damages) from any one party that is at all responsible for the collision. For the monetary damages related to pain and suffering, the laws allocates this damage strictly by the percentage of fault of each party. The objective is to make the injured party as whole as possible, not to provide a financial windfall.
When you have immediate medical bills that aren't covered by your health insurance, you may wish to use the MedPay coverage from your own auto insurance policy or the policy of the driver whose vehicle you were riding in. Approving claims made in this way is much quicker since fault does not play a role in the process. However, any funds you receive will often need to be repaid if you later receive a settlement from the at-fault driver.
Special Considerations for Family Accidents
If your accident occurred when you were riding with a family member, you may be wondering if you are eligible to make a claim covered by your relative's insurance. This depends on the specific terms of the policy, as well as where each occupant of the vehicle lives.
When an at-fault driver and passenger live in separate houses, the passenger is eligible to recover damages resulting from an accident. This means that you'd likely be eligible for coverage if you were in an accident while visiting your aunt or accompanying your grandmother to a doctor's appointment.
Unfortunately, many insurance policies have an exclusion that prevents liability coverage for passengers if the vehicle occupants all live in the same household. This means that accidents involving injured children are not covered when a parent is driving and causes an accident. Make sure you consult with an attorney to explore all the nuances in possible insurance coverage.
The Dangers of Trying to Avoid an Insurance Claim
If you were riding in a vehicle with a friend, you may feel awkward trying to bring an injury claim to recover accident-related damages. Remember, your claim will involve the insurance company more than your friend. Also, be careful that you do not accept an offer to pay for your out of pocket expenses without consulting with an attorney. Some insurance companies try to get a quick settlement to prevent having to pay for all the damages caused by their insured driver.
A Secret Many Passengers Do Not Know
Even when you are occupying someone’s vehicle, a passenger may still be covered by their own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. For example, if the passenger has an uninsured motorist policy that is larger than the insurance available for the at-fault driver(s), then that policy may be available to help pay for the damages. Also, if the car in which the passenger was riding has uninsured motorist coverage, that coverage may also be available to the passenger under the right circumstances.
Getting Legal Help
As an injured passenger, your claim is considered a third-party claim. This means you are filing under an insurance policy that's not your own. To protect your rights throughout this process, it is recommended that you retain legal representation. Your attorney can gather evidence, line up the relevant expert testimony, and negotiate the highest possible settlement on your behalf. The attorney can also evaluate the possible source of all available insurance coverage.
Many people worry about the cost of hiring an attorney when they are injured and unable to work. However, money should be no object when it comes to advocating for your needs in a car accident personal injury case. Personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay no upfront fee. Instead, your attorney will accept a percentage of the final settlement.
To learn more, call to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with the dedicated attorneys at Inland Empire Law Group. Appointments are available at our Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville offices.