What Rights Do Passengers Have in A Car Accident?
Almost nothing can ruin your day or your life faster than a car accident. Even in the best of cases, with minor or no injuries involved, a car crash can be a deeply unsettling and confusing event. There’s damage to assess, information to exchange, police and insurance companies to contact, and sometimes complicated legal issues to resolve.
The whole experience can be even more upsetting if you’re a passenger rather than one of the drivers involved. Though no fault of your own, you may have suffered injuries or property damage. How do you recover your losses? What happens if you have no insurance of your own? What if the person at fault is the driver of the car you happened to be traveling in?
The answers to these questions aren’t automatic. A lot depends on the individual circumstances of the accident and the provisions of the insurance carried by the responsible party or parties. But the discussion below can give you some idea of the options you may have as a passenger in a car accident, and how to pursue the appropriate claim to address your medical bills and other damages.
When The Other Driver Is At Fault
First, the good news.
In the vast majority of cases, a passenger has no liability in a traffic accident. (If you were involved in a fistfight with your driver at the time of the collision, that might be the rare exception.)
In Colorado and most states, every driver is required to carry at least a minimum level of liability insurance for bodily injury and property damage; one option you have is to file a claim against the responsible party’s insurance to recover costs you incurred, such as medical bills, as a result of the accident.
That sounds simple enough, especially if the other driver is at fault. But fault isn’t always clearly established at the time of the accident, and the situation can get more complicated if there are multiple vehicles and multiple passengers involved.
The other driver’s insurance limits may not be adequate to address all the injury claims involved, or liability might be shared to some degree by your driver — an issue that sometimes doesn’t get resolved until months later in court.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue such a claim, if justified, but if liability is unclear or the other driver’s coverage turns out to be the bare minimum, you may want to explore other possible claims as well.
When Your Driver Is At Fault
Understandably, some people feel awkward about filing an insurance claim against a policy held by a friend, business associate, or other close acquaintance. But if your driver is responsible for the accident, it could be the most sensible way for you to recover your costs — that is, after all, what the insurance is for.
Depending on your relationship with the driver, you may not be able to make a “third-party” claim against his or her liability insurance.
Typically, a spouse or someone who lives with the driver is considered a “named insured” on the driver’s policy and thus cannot make a third-party claim.
In that event, your best route to getting medical bills paid may be to file a claim under the MedPay (or, in some states, Personal Injury Protection or PIP) provision of the driver’s auto policy. Such coverage is designed to address medical expenses of the driver or any passengers, regardless of who is at fault in the accident.
Not all drivers have medical benefits coverage. (In Colorado, it’s coverage you have to decline in writing if you don’t want to include it.) In some cases, the coverage may be designated as supplemental rather than primary, meaning that your own health insurance is supposed to pick up some of the costs.
Depending on the extent of the injuries, your relationship to the driver, and the degree to which each driver is at fault, you may end up filing liability claims against both drivers to get your costs addressed.
Filing A Claim Under Your Own Insurance
If the at-fault driver doesn’t have adequate coverage, or if your own driver doesn’t have medical benefits coverage, there’s still another way to go. Your own auto policy may provide some benefits, such as MedPay, even if you weren’t driving.
You should check with your health insurer as well, to see how costs would be allocated between your health insurance and the medical benefits allowed under the auto policy.
Some people regard this option as a last resort, fearing that their own premiums will go up if they put in a claim. But turning to your own insurance can be the path of least resistance in many scenarios. If the basic issue is that the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance, or the insurance turns out to have limits lower than the costs of the injury, you should also consider what might be available to you under your own policy’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. (We’ve written before about the importance of having such coverage, particularly since one out of eight drivers on the road isn’t carrying any insurance at all.) The UM/UIM coverage applies whether you’re a driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian.
In many situations, the decision about what sort of claim to pursue may be far from obvious. It’s a good idea to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney early in the process, someone who can review the terms of the available insurance coverage and the facts of the accident and help you make the right choices.
DENVER CAR ACCIDENT LAWYERS AT FDAZAR
For more than thirty five years the car accident lawyers at Franklin D. Azar & Associates have helped thousands of injured people obtain complete and timely compensation for their losses. Our proven track record and expertise have allowed us to grow into the largest personal-injury law firm in Colorado, with offices in Denver, Greenwood Village, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo. We are proud of our approach; we commit attorneys to cases, not paralegals. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Please call the car accident attorney at FDAzar day or night at 855.637.1268 or contact us here for a free consultation and no-obligation evaluation of your case.