Rights of Passengers in Motor Vehicle Accidents
Passengers often suffer catastrophic injuries or even fatal injuries in motor vehicle accidents. Although the focus after a car accident is on the driver of a vehicle, often, it is the passengers who suffer more serious injuries. When a passenger is injured in a car accident, the question arises: Who should be held liable for his or her injuries and damages? There is no question that passengers have rights and can file a claim regardless of who is at fault.
There may be situations where the driver in which the victim was a passenger caused a car accident. In other situations, the driver of another vehicle may have caused the collision. Depending on who was at fault, you can file a claim against the driver of the vehicle you were in or against the driver of the other vehicle. If you have insurance, you could also a file a claim with your insurance company under the medical coverage portion of your policy.
Injured Passenger Statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 32,885 people were killed in traffic accidents in the United States in the year 2010. That is the lowest number of fatalities since 1949. Although there were fewer traffic fatalities that year, there was an increase in the number of injuries suffered by passengers. In fact, the greatest increases in the number of injured people from the year 2009 to 2010 were among passenger car occupants. In 2009, 2,217,000 passengers and non-occupants were injured in traffic accidents. In 2010, that number increased to 2,239,000.
What to Do after the Accident
If you are a passenger injured in a car accident, the steps you take after the accident can have an impact on your claim. Here are some of the steps you can take to help protect your rights and strengthen your claim:
- If you and others have been injured, call 911 right away so you can get the medical attention you need.
- When police arrive at the scene, talk to them and stick to the facts. Obtain a copy of the police report or get the officer's name, badge number and contact information so you can call him or her later.
- Take photographs of the accident scene and your injuries.
- Do not talk about the accident with the other driver, the driver of your car or any other passengers. It is best not to say anything.
- Do get contact information for other parties involved in the collision and also for anyone who may have witnessed the crash.
- Do not refuse treatment at the scene if it is provided. Be sure to see your doctor right away. This will help maximize your chances of a speedy and complete recovery.
- Do not talk to insurance adjusters who are well trained to get statements that help them avoid a payout. Refer all questions to your personal injury lawyer.
If you are a passenger injured in a car crash in California, you have the right to recover compensation from the insurance carrier of the driver who was at fault. This is the case even if the at-fault party was the driver of the vehicle in which you were a passenger. If the driver happens to be a relative with whom you live such as your spouse or sibling, you are considered an insurance person under their policy. Therefore, you may not be able to make a liability claim against that policy.
Also, if your behavior caused or contributed to the crash or injury, the recovery may be reduced. A common example would be a situation where the passenger knew that he or she was getting into a car knowing that the driver had been drinking. Investigations in these types of cases can take weeks or even months.
If fault has not been determined in your case or if your case involved a driver who did not have auto insurance, then the uninsured motorist clause of your auto insurance policy can cover your losses. When you file such a claim, you essentially file a claim against your own insurance company. You may find that your insurance company tries to defend the at-fault driver simply to avoid paying you. These are situations in which a knowledgeable California car accident lawyer can help you. If your insurance company is not offering you a fair settlement or playing hardball, you need an attorney who can play that game better than the insurance company.
Passenger Safety Tips
As a driver, how to act and react can give you some control over whether or not you can prevent accidents. For example, you can prevent an accident by sticking to the speed limit, driving defensively and attentively. As a passenger, however, there is little you can do to prevent an accident. There are a few steps you can, however, take to ensure your safety:
- Make sure you never get into the car of someone who has been drinking.
- Do not allow the driver to check email or send texts while the car is in motion.
- Help the driver change the radio station or adjust the heat so that he or she can focus on driving.
- Point out when other drivers are behaving erratically. You should also point out when there is debris on the roadway or if you see some other roadway hazard, which the driver may have missed.
- Limit your conversations. Do not distract the driver by pointing to something on the side of the road where the driver would have to take his or her eyes off the roadway.
- Buckle up. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), seat belts saved more than 75,000 lives from the years 2004 to 2008. In fact, 42 percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in the year 2007 were unbelted.
Contacting an Experienced Motor Vehicle Injury Lawyer
It is crucial that you protect your rights after a car crash, even if you are related to the driver or other injured passengers in the vehicle. Do not assume that you will not receive compensation because the driver is your friend or relative. An experienced California car accident lawyer can help you recover compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, hospitalization, rehabilitation, pain and suffering and emotional distress. The skilled personal injury lawyers at BISNAR CHASE know what it takes for fight for your rights and ensure that you are fairly and fully compensated for your losses. Please contact us at 949-203-3814 for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.