How to File a Car Accident Claim as a Passenger

May 26, 2024 | Phil Sarfin
How to File a Car Accident Claim as a Passenger

Most people never expect to be in a car accident when riding as a passenger, whether with someone they know or a stranger in a taxi or a rideshare vehicle. However, you need to realize that you put your safety in the hands of the person who drives your car. And even if you are confident in your driver’s ability to get you from point A to point B without incident, sometimes even the most experienced and cautious driver is involved in an accident. When this happens, you must understand how to claim compensation as an injured passenger.

If you have suffered injuries while riding as a passenger in someone’s car, always speak with a car accident lawyer to know how to proceed in your situation.

Understand the Insurance Rules in Your State

Before you make a claim for compensation as an injured passenger, you need to understand the insurance rules in the state where the accident occurred.

At-Fault States

File a Car Accident Claim as a Passenger

In at-fault states, also known as tort states, the person who caused the accident (and, by extension, their insurance) is responsible for compensating anyone injured in the accident. This means that as an injured passenger, you will typically file a claim against the insurance policy of the driver at fault. It sounds straightforward until you consider scenarios where fault is shared or when multiple drivers are involved.

When filing a claim in an at-fault state:

  • Identify the at-fault driver. This is usually determined by the police report, insurance investigation, and your lawyer’s independent investigation.
  • File a third-party claim. You will be doing this directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
  • Understand the policy limits. Compensation is limited to the policy limits of the at-fault driver’s insurance. If your medical expenses exceed these limits, you might need to explore additional options, such as filing a lawsuit.

No-Fault States

No-fault states streamline the initial claims process, especially for minor injuries. Here, rather than figuring out who caused the accident, each party files a claim with their own insurance policy under personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This coverage should pay for medical bills, lost earnings, and sometimes funeral expenses, regardless of who was at fault.

However, as a passenger, the waters get a bit muddier. If the driver of the car you were in has PIP coverage, you’d typically be covered under their policy. But, there are exceptions and intricacies:

  1. Exceptions and limits: Each state’s no-fault laws have specific thresholds for what injuries qualify for a claim, and there are limits to how much compensation you can receive.
  2. Stepping outside the no-fault system: In cases of severe injury, you might have the option to bypass the no-fault system and file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance or sue for damages.

For Example: Florida’s No-Fault System

Florida is an interesting case study due to its approach to no-fault insurance. Here, all drivers must carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage, which covers 80 percent of all reasonable medical expenses. For injured passengers, this means:

  • Filing a PIP claim. If you don’t own a vehicle (hence, you do not have PIP coverage), you can file a claim under the driver’s PIP coverage.
  • Exploring other options. If your injury is severe, Florida law permits you to step outside the no-fault system to seek compensation from the at-fault parties through a personal injury lawsuit, provided your injuries meet certain criteria.

If the insurance rules seem too confusing, you can schedule a free consultation with a car accident lawyer and discuss everything you need to know without spending hours trying to decipher it yourself.

Determine the Amount of Insurance Coverage You Are Entitled To

Calculating Car Accident Damages

Injured passengers have every right to seek compensation for their injuries, medical expenses, loss of income, diminished quality of life, and pain and suffering, among other damages. In fact, as an injured passenger, you are typically in a better position than either of the drivers involved in the accident, as liability is not a question for you. Either one or both drivers might be responsible for your damages, depending on the situation.

The question of who is at fault for the accident determines whose insurance will cover your expenses. There are a few scenarios to consider:

  • If one driver is clearly at fault, their insurance is primarily responsible for compensating you.
  • You might claim against both drivers’ insurance policies if both drivers share liability.
  • In a single-vehicle accident, if the driver of the car you were in is at fault, their insurance policy should cover your claim.

Insurance policies can be complex. Typically, the following coverages may be available when filing a passenger injury claim:

  1. Liability insurance. This covers the injuries of others in accidents deemed to be the driver’s fault. If the other driver is at fault, you will claim against their liability insurance.
  2. Personal injury protection (PIP) or Medical Payments (MedPay). Regardless of who is at fault, the driver’s PIP or MedPay can cover medical bills for the passengers.
  3. Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). If the at-fault driver does not have insurance or not enough insurance to cover your damages, the UM/UIM coverage of the policy of the car you were in may cover your claim.

However, remember that the insurance options available to you as a passenger also depend on whether you suffered an injury in a fault or no-fault state. When exploring your compensation options, always consult a car accident lawyer to get a personalized assessment of your case.

When we talk about the cost of accident-related damages, we refer to both economic and non-economic damages, where damages refer to the monetary compensation that may be available to you. Here’s what you need to know about these two categories of damages when filing a car accident claim as an injured passenger:

Economic Damages

These are quantifiable losses that have a direct impact on your finances. They include:

  • Medical expenses. From emergency room visits to ongoing physical therapy sessions, medical costs of car accident injuries can pile up quickly, regardless of whether you are an injured driver or passenger. Keep all your medical bills and records to account for every expense.
  • Lost income. If your injuries force you to miss work and, as a result, lose income, you can claim compensation for the income you should have earned had you not suffered an injury. This also covers future lost earning capacity if your injuries affect your ability to work long-term.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses. This can vary widely from one case to another and may include costs related to transportation to medical appointments, hiring help at home, and any modifications needed to your accommodation.

Non-Economic Damages

These damages are more challenging to quantify as they pertain to the impact on your well-being and quality of life:

  • Pain and suffering. This category includes physical discomfort and pain resulting from the accident, which, as you can guess, do not have any fixed value attached to them and must be calculated individually.
  • Loss of enjoyment. If your injuries prevent you from engaging in hobbies or other activities that once brought you joy, you might be compensated for that loss.
  • Emotional distress. Beyond physical pain, you may experience anxiety, depression, or other emotional challenges following the accident.

When you suffer an injury in a car accident as a passenger, your expenses and losses can add up quickly. Seek legal counsel before the situation spirals out of control and becomes a burden for your budget. A car accident attorney can prepare your claim, calculate your accident-related damages, and inform you about your compensation options.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Passenger Injury Claims

Passengers who get injured in a car accident may have many questions related to making a claim for compensation. This FAQ section may address some of them, but if you need further guidance, reach out to a car accident attorney to schedule a personalized consultation.

Being related to the driver involved in the incident does not bar you from seeking compensation for your injuries. However, the process may involve filing a claim against their insurance policy. If you worry that this would strain your relations with the driver, you need to keep in mind that you are not directly filing against the driver but rather making a claim on their insurance policy. Insurance policies are designed for such situations.

What happens if the injured passenger is a minor?

Typically, a parent or legal guardian will act on behalf of the injured minor to file a claim for compensation. Settlements for minors often require court approval to ensure that the minor’s best interests are being served. The funds awarded are usually placed in a protected account until the minor reaches adulthood, although there can be exceptions if the funds are needed for medical care.

What if the driver offers to pay my expenses himself?

While it might seem easier to accept an offer from the driver to cover your expenses directly, you need to proceed with caution before accepting this seemingly generous offer. Directly accepting compensation without understanding the full extent of your injuries and potential future expenses can leave you financially vulnerable. It is also worth noting that most drivers have insurance precisely for these situations, and the most proper route may be to file a claim through their insurer.

What evidence do I need to file an injury claim as a passenger?

When filing an injury claim as a passenger, it is best to collect as much evidence as possible to support your claim for compensation. Some of the pieces of evidence to gather for your case include:

  • A copy of the police report if you have one (if not, your lawyer can get it)
  • Photographs taken at the accident scene, vehicle damage, and your injuries
  • Medical records that detail your injuries, treatment received, and any future medical needs
  • Receipts for any expenses incurred as a result of the accident, including medical bills, medication, and any necessary assistive devices
  • Documentation that shows the loss of income

Sometimes, an injured passenger may not convince the insurance company to pay them a reasonable amount of money, no matter what kind of evidence they present. In this case, the passenger may still be able to file a lawsuit to recover the compensation they deserve. If this is the route you are considering in your case, consult with a lawyer first and be aware of the statute of limitations. This statute, which limits the time injured persons have to take legal action, varies from state to state. In Florida, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of injury (Fla. Stat. § 95.11).

How much money can I expect after a car accident if I was a passenger?

The compensation amount when filing a car accident claim as a passenger depends on many factors, including the severity of your injuries, the impact of the injuries on your earning capacity and daily life, and your past and future medical expenses, among others. Everyone’s situation is unique, so it is nearly impossible to estimate a precise figure without a thorough evaluation by a skilled lawyer.

Do I need a car accident lawyer if I'm an injured passenger?

It is a common misconception to think that only drivers can benefit from the services of a lawyer. As an injured passenger, you might want to consider getting legal counsel if you are unsure how to file a car accident claim yourself or if you experience any difficulties when trying to obtain compensation. With a lawyer, you will understand the full scope of your claimable damages and all avenues of compensation available to you. Moreover, when you have a personal injury lawyer working on your claim, you can focus on healing and getting back to your normal everyday life without having to worry about the legalities of your case.

Phil Sarfin

Phil Sarfin is an associate at Blakeley Law Firm, P.A. and focuses his practice on personal injury, including automobile accidents, slip and falls and wrongful death. He received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Delaware in 2010, and his Juris Doctor from Nova Southeastern University in 2015. He is licensed to practice in all Florida state courts.

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