A passenger who gets hurt in a car accident usually has an easier case than a driver or any other type of personal injury plaintiff. This is because the passenger does not have to worry about proving liability; one of the drivers is going to be liable.
As with any personal injury claim, in a car accident case the plaintiff must be able to prove two things: liability (the defendant’s fault) and damages (how badly the plaintiff was injured).
If the accident was a two car accident, one of the drivers is definitely going to be liable. It is almost impossible to have a two car accident without at least one of the drivers being deemed negligent in some way.
If the accident was a one car accident (i.e., the driver hits a tree), then the driver will usually be liable. As a general rule, if the driver hits something, he/she typically did something (or failed to do something) that amounts to negligence. But there are always exceptions. One exception could be if a driver hits a deer that suddenly jumps out of the bushes and bounds across the road. No one expects to have a deer jumping into his/her way. It is certainly possible for a driver to be found not negligent in that situation.
A passenger injury claim proceeds just like any other type of car accident claim, except that the passenger would make the claim against both drivers, if it was a two car accident.
The passenger would want to get the insurance information for each driver, and file claims with each driver’s insurance company. But there are exceptions again. If, for example, one of the drivers was obviously not negligent, like if he/she was rear ended, the passenger in that car would not generally bother filing a personal injury claim against the driver of the lead car.
If the accident took place in a no fault state, the passenger would file a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or No Fault claim against that driver with respect to his/her medical bills and lost earnings.
After the passenger has completed his/her medical treatment, the case is now ready to be settled. If it is a case where both drivers could be at fault, the passenger or a lawyer has to negotiate with both drivers’ insurance companies. In many cases, a passenger injury claim can be settled painlessly, but there are situations where it is difficult to settle passenger injury cases.
Let’s take an example of a two car accident in which both drivers are at fault.
Let’s say that one passenger is injured and has a claim worth about $100,000. If the case goes to trial, and the jury finds both drivers equally at fault, each driver’s insurer will have to pay $50,000 to the injured passenger. But if the jury assesses liability at 75/25, then of course one driver’s insurer will have to pay $75,000, and the other driver’s insurer will only have to pay $25,000. Sometimes, innocent passengers can get caught in a dispute between the two insurers over which driver is more liable.
Let’s say that insurer #1 believes that its driver is only 25% at fault, but insurer #2 believes that its driver is only 25% at fault. That means that each insurer is only going to be willing to pay $25,000 toward the settlement. The passenger is now stuck. In order to get the full value on his/her case, the passenger will have to wait until one or the other insurer caves and agrees to pay the proper amount, which is a waste as far as the passenger is concerned. So, in this example, you can see how a fight over liability between the two insurance companies unnecessarily delays the passenger’s settlement.
Another potential problem in passenger injury cases is when there are multiple passengers.
Let’s say that a car with three passengers is rear ended, and all four occupants of the car are injured. All four people file claims against the negligent driver. If the total value of the injury cases exceeds the driver’s insurance, each injured person will have to settle with the negligent driver for less than what his/her case is worth.
Basically, all of the injured people have to take their money from the same small pot. If the injured people can’t agree with each other as to how much each should get, the insurer is usually not going to settle with any of them. The passengers are then going to have to file suit in order to settle the issue of how much each of them will get.
If you are a passenger who was injured in a car accident, and have any questions about your legal rights, you may want to discuss your options with a car accident lawyer.