Who Is Liable for Passenger InjuriesCar accidents are very traumatic experiences.  Car accidents are especially challenging if you weren't the one driving and your friend or family member was partly responsible for the collision. As a passenger, you have several different options, and limitations, for seeking compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and damages, suffered in an accident.

Who Is Liable for Your Injuries?

Unless a passenger interferes with driver’s operation of the vehicle, a passengers can't be found at-fault for an accident.  In theory, a passenger should be legally entitled to seek full reimbursement for all accident-related expenses and losses. How you seek this compensation will depend upon who is considered the at-fault for the collision and the passenger’s relationship with the at-fault driver.

When the driver of the vehicle occupied by the passenger is not a relative living within the same household, your options for filing a claim include: 

  • Seeking reimbursement under the policy of the driver of the car you were riding in if that driver is determined to be at fault for the accident
  • Filing a claim against the policy of the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident if that driver is determined to be at fault.
  • If both drivers were partially at fault claims can be brought against both drivers for their proportionate share of the damage suffered by the passenger. 
  • If one or more of the at-fault drivers was driving a car that belonged to someone else, a passenger can seek compensation under the owner's policy as well.
  • If one or more the drivers were acting as an employee, or was engaged in the service of another, the person or company for whom the driver was working might have responsibility for the passenger’s injuries.
  • If the injuries to the passenger are severe and the responsible drivers did not have enough insurance to cover the claim, a passenger’s own uninsured motorist policy that he or she may have with an insurance company may potentially be available to contribute compensation for the injuries.

Nearly all of the above options are considered third-party claims since you're filing under an insurance policy that's not your own.  Involving an uninsured motorist claim is considered a first party claim.

Should You Use Medical Payments Coverage?

If the collision caused injuries requiring immediate medical care, resulting in medical bills, medical pay coverage might be available to help with the cost of these medical bills.  Medical pay is not required under California law, but many drivers do opt to purchase it and knowing if that type of coverage exists can ease some of the strain caused by medical bills.

Medical payments coverage is designed to supplement health insurance benefits. It does not award benefits based on liability, so there's no need to wait to see who is found at fault for the accident. However, medical payments coverage only covers medical expenses up to the limits of the policy. It provides no reimbursement for lost wages or pain and suffering. In addition, any money you receive may be deducted from future liability payments or may need to be reimbursed under certain circumstances.

What Happens If You Are Related to the Driver?

A common issue with passenger injury claims occurs when the passenger is related to the at-fault driver and part of the same household. In this case, the passenger is considered an insured person under the driver's liability coverage. But being an insured person, means that person is not eligible to file a liability claim against the policy.  The passenger may still have a right of action against their relative for negligence, but the claim will not be covered by insurance.

What Happens If the Injured Passenger Is a Child?

If the passenger is a child who is not related to or living in the same household as the driver of the car, the claim will proceed as normal. The only difference is that a parent or guardian will be required to make decisions about the handling of the claim on the child's behalf.

What If the Driver Offers to Pay Your Expenses Himself?

Sometimes, the driver of a vehicle will offer to pay a passenger’s expenses out of pocket to avoid making an insurance claim that could cause his rates to increase. However, accepting this offer is ill advised. Even if you feel as though your injuries are minor, you could develop complications at a later date. Without a report to the insurance company, you'd have no legal recourse for expenses that exceeded your initial expectations.  Also signing a release before knowing all the injuries suffered can prohibit a full recovery when the true nature of the injuries are discovered.

How Can an Attorney Help?

Hiring a personal injury attorney to handle your case is particularly important when you're a passenger. As a third-party claimant, you need to have someone advocating for your needs throughout the process.  You will need someone who can search out all the available source for recovery and then negotiate with those who control the funds that might relieve your suffering. The insurance adjusters will only be concerned about saving money for their employers, even if this means you're left without a way to pay your expenses.

The Inland Empire Law Group has extensive experience assisting California residents in resolving their personal injury claims. Call (888) MY IE LAW to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at either our Rancho Cucamonga or Victorville offices.


David Ricks
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Rancho Cucamonga Personal Injury Lawyer Serving the Inland Empire Community