Every year in California, vehicle accidents injure hundreds of thousands of passengers. If you are a passenger in a car accident, who pays for your injuries? Are there restrictions on whom you can sue? Are you more likely to reach a passenger car accident settlement with the driver of the car you were in or the other driver?
The answers to these questions are fact-specific. The circumstances of the auto accident and the details in the drivers’ insurance policies determine the answers.
Consulting with an experienced car accident attorney is the best way to understand your options. I bring 35 years of representing car accident victims to every auto accident case I review. My understanding of California laws relating to car crashes, negligence, and auto insurance helps me quickly grasp the facts and see the victims’ options.
This brief FAQ about passengers’ rights can be helpful in preparing for a meeting with a car accident attorney.
Which driver do you sue?
Car accidents are almost always the result of someone’s negligence, usually an automobile driver. Collisions are often the result of negligence on the part of both drivers. Maybe one driver was speeding and the other was distracted while changing radio stations.
How would passengers know which driver was responsible for the crash? They may or they may not. Therefore, the safest approach is to file claims against both drivers whenever the situation exists where there is possibly at least some fault on both drivers, and let their insurance companies sort out who was at fault.
Pursuing claims against both drivers increases the chances that you will receive the total compensation to which you are entitled. Since California is a comparative negligence state, both drivers could be found responsible for the accident. Consequently, both drivers might be responsible for paying for your injuries.
If both drivers were equally responsible for the accident and you only filed a claim against one, you would only receive half of your damages. That’s because the one driver you filed a claim against is only responsible for paying 50% of your total claim.
Let’s say your medical bills total $20,000 and your pain and suffering totals $20,000. You are entitled to recover $40,000. If each driver is found to be 50% responsible for the car accident, each must pay you $20,000.
How does California’s minimum insurance requirements impact a passenger in a car accident settlement?
California law requires drivers to carry a minimum of $15,000 in liability insurance coverage. The $15,000 covers injury or death to one person. Drivers must also have $30,000 in coverage for harm to more than one person and $5,000 for property damage. Instead of insurance, drivers can prove financial responsibility with a cash deposit with DMV or other options.
Returning to the example with $40,000 in damages, if both drivers only carry the minimum liability insurance, what happens? Their combined car accident insurance payments to you would be $30,000. You still deserve to recover the remaining $10,000.
Drivers are personally responsible for amounts exceeding their liability insurance limits. Therefore, you can try to collect the additional $5,000 from each of the drivers.
Is it rude or disrespectful to sue family or friends?
Who do you most often ride in a car with? Most likely the answer is “friends and family.” This also makes them most likely to be the driver if you are a passenger in a car accident. If that happens, should you pursue a claim against them?
The answer differs for families and friends. If the driver of the car was a relative who lives with you, you probably cannot pursue a claim. California allows auto insurance policies to exclude coverage for claims made by family members who are residents of the same household (the family exclusion). The rationale is that the benefits paid to the family member would also benefit the policyholder, which could create an incentive for dishonesty. However, in some situations, your claim might be paid because you are covered under the policy. A thorough review of the specific policy is called for in those situations.
If the driver is a friend, you can pursue a claim even if you live together. Nevertheless, it can feel awkward to pursue an insurance claim or file a lawsuit against a friend. Know that your friend has liability insurance for exactly this reason: to pay for injuries caused by a car accident.
Your friend will not be paying your expenses; the insurance company will. And the payor, the insurance company, doesn’t care if you are a friend of the insured or not. It’s not personal; it’s business. What I always tell clients in these situations is that if your friend is at fault, his/her insurance company has already classified them as the “at fault” driver, and filing your claim against them will not affect their driving history any more than it has already been affected.
What do you have to prove to receive compensation?
Thankfully, passengers in car accident settlements don’t have to prove liability. With rare exceptions, passengers aren’t at fault in car accidents. One or both of the automobile drivers caused the accident, not you. Therefore, you are entitled to recover 100% of your damages from the accident. Passengers’ damages usually include medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Does it matter whether you have insurance?
Since the comparative negligence calculation generally does not apply to passengers, your insurance should not come into play. With that said, there are a few scenarios where your insurance policy might pay out.
If you have medical payments coverage (MedPay), it will cover your immediate medical care, regardless of who caused the accident. This is helpful when you need medical treatment but cannot pay for it. It is also helpful if you need immediate treatment and are concerned about how long the insurance company will take to reimburse you.
If the driver of the car was uninsured or underinsured and you have a policy that covers this, you will file a claim with your own auto insurance company. Insurance companies in California must offer drivers uninsured motorist coverage (UMC) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). Drivers are not required to carry this insurance, though.
What if you aren’t the only passenger hurt?
Every person injured in a car accident is entitled to compensation from the person who caused the accident. If the auto collision hurts four passengers and two drivers, all six people can file claims. The passengers would likely file against both drivers, and the drivers would file against each other. The insurance companies would only pay up to the limits of the policies.
If the total amount of damages among the six injured people exceeded the insurance caps, they would need to figure out how to split the insurance payout.
Although they are entitled to full recovery for damages, passengers in a car accident settlement may not receive full payment. The insurance company only pays the amount required by the policy. Once the payout equals the policy limit, the insurance company’s has met its obligation. Injured persons can then pursue the drivers personally for the remaining amount owed.
Getting Help from a Long Beach Car Accident Attorney
Your Injuries Are Personal To Me
Passengers hurt in a car crash accident should consult an experienced car accident attorney before signing a “passenger in car accident settlement.” In 35 years of representing auto accident victims, I have seen the need for passengers to have strong advocacy.
Since injured car accident passengers file what is known as a third party claim, they need independent representation. A third party claim happens when you file a claim with an insurance company that is not your own. Sometimes this means that your claim is not the insurance adjuster’s priority. I know how insurance companies work and I will not stop until you have been compensated.
Because your accidents are personal to me, I am available for every part of your case. I will fight for you to obtain the full compensation to which you are entitled.
Call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks today at 888-394-1174. You can also use the convenient online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
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