Passengers can get hurt in car accidents, too. However, many vehicle passengers do not fully understand their legal rights, and many who think they do have the misconception that they would be suing a member of their family if they choose to seek compensation for their injuries.
If you have been hurt in a car crash in which you were riding in someone else's car, you have the legal right to be compensated for your losses, and you are often able to exercise this right by dealing with the insurance companies involved, rather than targeting someone who is close to you.
Your Legal Rights as a Passenger in a Vehicle
In all but extremely rare cases, if you were a passenger in a car and that car got involved in a crash that hurt you, that crash was caused by someone else. It is only fair, then, that the person who ultimately caused the crash compensate you for your losses.
In this sense, a passenger's personal injury claim is much easier than a driver's: A passenger can simply file a lawsuit against all of the drivers who were involved in the collision, and collect compensation from the one who ends up being found responsible for the crash.
When Your Driver is a Loved One or Close Friend
Things get slightly more complicated when the driver of your vehicle was a loved one or a close friend that you do not want to sue, for personal reasons. You might think that, if it ends up being revealed that they were the one who was negligent and caused the accident, you will suddenly end up suing them. For many people, this is simply not an option.
This dilemma, however, is only a real one if your friend or loved one was driving without insurance, and would pay any settlement out of their own pocket. In most cases, though, there will be an insurance company involved. It is this insurance company that will be responsible for covering the costs of the damage and compensating you for your losses. Covering these costs is, quite literally, what people pay insurance companies to do through their regular insurance premium.
Additionally, enforcing your legal rights to compensation after a car accident that was caused by your close friend or loved one will not even raise the costs of their car insurance: After an accident, their rates will rise, but this rise is a result of the crash, itself, not your injuries. Even if you did not exercise your rights, their insurance rates would rise, anyway.
Therefore, even if the driver of your vehicle was someone you are close to, there are no good reasons why you should not seek compensation for your injuries.
Settling Claims With Your Insurance After Being Hurt as a Passenger
It is a stark reality that the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court, often by insurance companies. If you have been hurt in a car accident where you were a passenger in one of the vehicles, this is no exception.
There is one unique aspect to these kinds of cases that is important to point out: As soon as the insurance company realizes that you are closely related to the driver who caused the crash, you can count on them using this fact as leverage. They will assume that you want to avoid the awkward situation of seeking compensation from someone close to you, and make an exceptionally low settlement offer to cover the costs of your injuries.
This makes it even more important in these situations to consult with an attorney before accepting a settlement offer from an insurance company. Insurance companies exist to make a profit, and minimizing their costs by making pitifully small settlement offers is one of the best ways they can do it.
Other Potential Insurance Complications
Another common aspect to personal injury claims by an injured passenger against a closely related driver is an insurance company's suspicion. Even though it rarely, if ever, happens, insurance companies who see a passenger trying to recover compensation from someone they are related to will closely investigate the incident for possible insurance fraud. They are worried that the accident was caused on purpose, in order to obtain insurance money. While this kind of insurance fraud is rare, it can be helpful to have an attorney at your side to make sure the investigation does not uncover something that they would wrongfully interpret as fraudulent.
In fact, this suspicion of fraud was the source of the rise of “guest statutes” between 1927 and 1939, and their subsequent fall in the 1970s. These statutes strictly prohibited car passengers from suing their own driver if they were hurt in a wreck. Luckily, all of the states in the U.S. but one – Alabama – have repealed their guest statute. Pennsylvania was one of the few states in the country to never enact one.
Finally, there are limitations to the amount of compensation that you stand to recover if you were hurt by a loved one's negligent driving. For example, you can only recover as much in compensation as the car insurance policy on the wrecked vehicle allows. Additionally, many car insurance policies could prevent you from utilizing the protections of uninsured or underinsured coverage.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
After a car crash, the important thing is not that you were only a passenger in the car: It is that you have been seriously hurt, and that justice would only be served if you did not have to pay for the costs associated with your injuries. Obtaining that compensation can be crucial for your future well-being, and will not impact the interests of your loved one or close friend if they were the one who was ultimately responsible for the crash.
The car accident and personal injury attorneys at the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian can help. Contact us online for the legal counsel you need.