If you're a passenger who's been hurt in a car accident, you probably have a lot of questions. Most urgently, you want to know how you're going to pay for your medical care. If you have to take time off work, how are you going to pay your bills? Will you get compensation for all that you've suffered—the pain, stress, and inconvenience of being in a car accident that isn't your fault?
In this article, we'll answer your questions. Here's what you need to know:
Getting immediate medical attention for yourself and others involved in the crash should always be your first priority after a car accident. But, after everyone is safe and the police are at the scene, you can take steps to help yourself get full compensation for your injuries. You'll need to gather information and evidence for your car accident case, including:
You'll also want to keep your own detailed records of:
The evidence you gather at the scene of the accident will help you prove who was at fault for the accident. The records you keep during the aftermath will help you prove your losses ("damages").
Injured passengers need to figure out who might be responsible (liable) for their accident-related losses. Options typically include one or more of the following:
Let's take a look at a few examples of how a passenger injury claim might play out.
If you're a passenger injured in a car accident, you might file a claim against:
You can't collect from both drivers and owners more than your claim is worth, but if one driver or owner is uninsured or underinsured you can make up the rest of your losses (called "damages") from another. You might also rely on your own underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage (see below).
Let's say your best friend is driving you to dinner in her car when she hits a tree. Drivers who hit stationary objects typically do something (or fail to do something) while driving that amounts to negligence, like speeding or not paying attention to the road. You'll submit a claim to your friend's insurance company. You might receive a settlement offer pretty quickly, but you might need to negotiate your way to a better outcome. If the insurer denies part or all of your claim, you might need to file a lawsuit (see below).
If your friend was borrowing her cousin's car at the time of the accident, you can submit a claim against her cousin's insurance company and your friend's carrier. The insurance companies will sort out which policy will pay for your damages (primary) and which policy will kick in if the primary policy isn't enough to cover your losses (secondary).
Now say your best friend is driving you to dinner in her car when she hits another car. You're injured and end up with $25,000 in medical bills. You aren't sure who is at fault for the accident. To try to get full compensation, you should file a claim against the insurer of your friend's car and the insurer of the other driver's car. (The insurer might be the drivers or owners of the cars involved in the accident, or both.)
If your friend's policy limit is $10,000, the other driver's coverage might kick in the remaining $15,000. But you can't recover more than $25,000 total from either or both insurers. This means that you can't "double dip" by getting, for example, $20,000 from your friend and $20,000 from the other driver.
If it's obvious that only one driver is at fault for the accident, filing claims with both insurers might just slow the process down. For example, if you're injured in a rear-end crash (where typically the rear-ended car will not be faulted), you might not bother filing an injury claim against the driver of the lead (rear-ended) car.
In most cases, the insurance of the person who was at fault for the accident pays for your damages. But you might need to file a claim under your own policy in some situations (instead of or in addition to other claims), including when:
If a driver involved in the accident doesn't have insurance or doesn't have enough insurance to cover your losses, you might be able to file a claim under your own car insurance if you have underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage (UMI).
Most UM policies pay for injuries while you are driving or riding in the vehicle named on your policy and while driving or riding in any vehicle you don't own.
Many car insurance policies pay up to certain limits for accident-related medical bills, no matter who was at fault for the accident (called "medical payment" or Medpay coverage). If you have Medpay, your medical bills are covered when you are driving or riding in the insured car or anyone else's car.
You can always use your own health insurance to pay for your car accident-related medical care. (Learn more about low-cost health insurance options at heatlhcare.gov.)
But if you do rely on your own health coverage to take care of your medical bills, and then you receive compensation for your injuries from another party's insurer, you might have to repay your health insurance company or HMO for some or all of the bills it covered.
If you have the option of paying your bills through your health plan or car insurance coverage (like Medpay or PIP), figure out if one option requires reimbursement and another doesn't. You'll probably want to go with the one you don't have to repay.
Your insurer might have the right to get reimbursed (paid back) from another party's insurer. The insurance companies will probably work behind the scene to reach an agreement about how to split the costs.
For more details, check out: Using Health Insurance for a Car Accident Injury.
Most car accident claims settle well before the case gets to court. The advantages of settlement for both parties include:
No two car accident claims are the same, so you can't know how much compensation you will get for losses. Most insurance adjusters (and judges and juries) consider:
If insurance settlement negotiations break down or a driver's insurance coverage isn't enough to fully compensate you for your injuries, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. The question of whether to "settle or sue" usually comes down to money. Before you decide, you should talk to an experienced car accident lawyer about whether a lawsuit makes sense in your case.
Learn more about steps in a personal injury lawsuit.
Most cases settle. But let's take a look at a few situations when getting the parties to reach an agreement might be more difficult.
For example, let's say you're a passenger who's seriously injured in a two-car accident. Your claim is worth about $100,000. If the case goes to trial, and the jury finds both drivers equally at fault, each drivers' insurer will have to pay $50,000. But if the jury finds Driver A is 75% at fault and Driver B is 25% at fault, then Driver A's insurer will have to pay $75,000, and Driver B's insurer will have to pay only $25,000.
You might get caught in a dispute between Driver A and Driver B's insurers if they can't agree on how much blame each driver shares for the accident. Returning to our example, let's say Driver A's insurer insists its driver is 25% at fault, and Driver B's insurer maintains its driver is also only 25% at fault. Each insurer is willing to pay $25,000 toward the settlement. You're now stuck. You will have to wait until an insurer caves or file a lawsuit and let a judge or a jury decide.
Another potential problem crops up when multiple passengers are injured in an accident.
Let's say a car carrying three passengers is rear-ended. All three passengers are injured and file claims with the insurance carrier of the car that caused the accident. If the total value of their claims exceeds the insurance coverage, the passengers might not get the full value of their claims, because they have to take their money from the same pot. If the injured passengers can't agree on how much each of them should get, the driver's insurer probably won't settle with any of them. The passengers are then going to have to file a lawsuit and let a judge or jury sort it out. They might also get a judgment beyond the limits of the driver's insurance policy, which they can try to collect if the driver has personal assets.
If you're an injured passenger, it can be hard to figure out who is responsible for your medical bills and other injury-related losses. If your driver was a friend or someone close to you, you might be hesitant to file an insurance claim or a lawsuit. A lawyer can give you objective advice about your situation, and will be the first to remind you: You're filing against an insurance company, not your friend. A lawyer can also negotiate with insurance companies for you and go to court if necessary to get you the compensation you deserve.
Learn more about when to hire a lawyer after a car accident. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with an auto accident lawyer for free.