How Injured Passengers Can File an Accident Claim for Compensation: Know Your Rights

Find out who should pay for passengers injured in a car accident and what to expect when filing an insurance claim.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3.4 million Americans end up in the ER every year because of car accidents, resulting in $75 billion in medical care costs and productivity losses.¹

The average auto insurance payout is close to $18,500 for bodily injury claims.²

When you’re a passenger in a car accident, you have legal rights, including the right to seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance policy, the policy covering the vehicle you were riding in, and even from your own car insurance policy.

Insurance Settlements for Injured Passengers

The dollar amount you can expect from a passenger accident claim depends on the severity of your injuries and the available insurance coverage.

Passenger injury payouts vary by injury type. For example:

  • A nuisance value under $3,000 for soft-tissue injuries like bumps, bruises, and mild sprains
  • Moderate injuries, like a simple broken arm, might settle for as much as $10,000-15,000 to cover medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering
  • Serious injuries, such a traumatic brain injury, may be valued into millions of dollars for victims who are permanently disabled

Passenger accident coverage may be available from several sources:

  • The driver of the vehicle you were riding in
  • The owner of the vehicle you were riding in, if different from the driver
  • The at-fault driver of another car involved in the crash
  • The owner of another vehicle involved in the crash, if different from the driver
  • Your own auto policy, if you have one

Insurance Coverage Types Available to Passengers

You need to know the policies and coverage that may apply to your situation to get the compensation you deserve.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is mandatory in no-fault insurance states and an optional form of coverage in others. The claimant does not have to prove fault to be compensated under PIP.

PIP coverage limits can range from $3,000 to $50,000, depending on the state.

PIP covers the driver and their passengers for injury-related costs, like:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • The cost of transportation to your medical appointments
  • Replacement services, like child care

PIP does not pay compensation for pain and suffering. It covers “reasonable” expenses up to the stated limit, based on state guidelines. For example, acupuncture is covered under PIP as a medical treatment in Utah, but not covered in California.

Scenarios Involving PIP and Injured Passengers

  • If you were injured while riding in someone else’s car (not a member of your household) and have your own no-fault auto insurance, the driver’s PIP coverage is usually primary. Your PIP coverage may pay for expenses that exceed the driver’s PIP limits.
  • If you were a passenger in someone else’s car and injured severely in a two-car crash, you’ll first claim PIP from the driver of the car you were in. If your damages exceed the state’s “injury threshold,” you can pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s liability insurance.
  • If you were injured as a passenger, and don’t have your own auto policy, you may have PIP coverage through a household/family member who is insured.

Medical Payments (MedPay)

Medical Payment (MedPay) coverage is an optional coverage in most states. Similar to PIP, MedPay pays for injuries to a driver and their passengers, no matter who was at fault for the accident.

MedPay differs from PIP in that MedPay only covers essential medical expenses. It does not pay for lost wages or replacement services like child care.

MedPay coverage typically has low limits, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.

Bodily Injury Liability (BI)

A big part of any car insurance is Bodily Injury Liability (BI) coverage, which can help cover an accident victim’s medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering when the policyholder is at fault for the accident.

Most states mandate minimum liability coverage limits, though a driver can choose to purchase more coverage.

For example, California requires the following minimum limits:

  • $15,000 per person who is hurt or killed in an accident
  • $30,000 for each accident if several people are hurt or killed
  • $5,000 for property damage

Injured passengers can seek bodily injury liability coverage from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

If the at-fault driver is your spouse or another family member, you might be excluded from coverage. If you don’t agree with the insurance company’s decision, it’s worth the time to talk to an injury attorney about your options.

Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured motorist coverage is mandatory in most states. Drivers who don’t have any insurance are considered uninsured. Many states require auto policies to include some level of uninsured motorist coverage, in case a non-insured driver hits the policyholder.

Uninsured motorist coverage pays for:

  • The policyholder
  • Covered family members
  • Passengers in the car driven by the policyholder (differs by policy)

If you’re a passenger in a vehicle that was hit by an uninsured at-fault driver, you might be able to seek compensation from the policy covering the driver of the car you were in. For example, you could file a claim with their PIP or MedPay. Depending on the policy, you might also be able to claim underinsured motorist BI coverage to pay for your injury costs.

If the driver of the car you were in doesn’t have coverage that applies to passengers, you can file a claim against your own auto policy for PIP, MedPay, or uninsured bodily injury coverage.

Underinsured motorist coverage is an optional add-on to auto policies in most states. Underinsured coverage covers the policyholders for accident-related injury expenses that exceed the at-fault driver’s liability limits.

As an injured passenger, you might be able to file a claim on the uninsured motorist coverage from the driver of the car you were in if another driver caused the accident.

If you were riding with the at-fault driver (not your spouse or household member), you would seek compensation from their PIP/MedPay and liability coverage. If your expenses exhaust the driver’s limits, you could file an underinsured motorist claim against your own policy.

If your injuries are severe enough to exhaust the at-fault driver’s liability limits, you probably shouldn’t be handling your claim without a personal injury lawyer.

Factors That Can Limit Injury Compensation

As an injured passenger, you should have no trouble getting compensation for minor injuries from available PIP or MedPay coverage, simply because you won’t have to prove fault to get your medical bills paid.

When it comes to liability insurance claims, it’s a different story. You won’t see a dime unless you can prove the insured driver was at fault. Most adjusters will do whatever it takes to deny or limit your claim – including shifting some of the blame on you.

Passenger Negligence

When passengers are in a car, they have a duty to protect themselves. In other words, a passenger must exercise care for his or her safety as a reasonably prudent person would under the same circumstances. A passenger who fails in this duty may be blamed for contributing to their injuries.

For example, insurance adjusters will try to see if the injured passenger:

  • Knowingly got into a vehicle with an intoxicated driver
  • Failed to wear a seat belt or shoulder harness
  • Engaged in risky behavior, like riding in the open bed of a pickup truck

In these examples, the passenger’s acts can reduce the amount they can recover, or cause the amount to fall to zero.

Shared Blame for Injuries

Insurance adjusters often use shared negligence laws as an excuse to deny or reduce personal injury claims.

Fortunately, only a few states have pure contributory negligence laws that say an injured person can be denied compensation if they are partially responsible for their injuries.

Comparative Negligence

Most states have adopted far more sympathetic comparative or contributory negligence laws. In these states, you still have a right to compensation so long as you are not equally or more to blame for the circumstances leading to your injuries.

Insurance adjusters are quick to blame the victim if it saves the insurance company from a big payout. Contact a local attorney for legal advice if you disagree with the adjuster’s distribution of blame for your injuries.

Accidents with Multiple Injury Victims

When multiple parties are injured, but there is limited insurance coverage, you may not receive full compensation. Most insurance companies will file an “interpleader action” to ask the court to decide how to divide up the available liability coverage among all the injured parties.

Depending on the state, the court might consider if any of the injured people have other sources of compensation, such as PIP, MedPay, or underinsured motorist coverage.

Common Scenarios with Injured Passengers

The most important thing for passengers in auto collisions to understand is who’s responsible for compensation. The responsible party will vary in different situations.

Family Member or Friend’s Car

If you’re hurt when a friend is driving, you file a claim with that person’s insurance. You may feel uneasy about doing this, but just remember that you’re filing a claim with their insurance company – not the individual.

If your family member or friend is partly at fault, then they may be partially liable for your compensation. If another driver was at fault but did not have enough coverage for your injuries, you may have to file an uninsured or underinsured policy claim with your driver’s insurance.

But bear in mind, if the at-fault driver is an immediate family member, you may be considered as an insured individual under their policy and not eligible for a liability claim.

Riding in a Work Vehicle

If you’re hurt as a passenger in a work vehicle, you may be able to recover through workers’ compensation if you were in the vehicle for company business.

If your co-worker/driver was wholly or partially at fault, you might also have a claim against the driver’s personal auto policy.

When your injuries in a work vehicle were caused by a collision with another vehicle driven by an at-fault driver, the at-fault driver is liable. Even if the other driver is responsible, you are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits so long as you were in the company vehicle for business purposes.

Keep in mind that if you win a settlement from the at-fault driver’s auto policy, the workers’ compensation insurance company will usually place a lien on your settlement proceeds.

Injuries Caused by Bus Accidents

Generally speaking, public transit bus and school bus operators are covered by more comprehensive insurance policies than drivers of conventional vehicles. In the event of a crash, the bus operators’ insurance covers not only the bus and the bus driver, but also all passengers on the bus.

How a bus company’s insurance will cover you depends on the insurance company. Some policies cover each bus passenger to a certain amount, while others place money into a pool, set up to allocate a payment to each passenger. Individual passengers are then responsible for making claims against the pool.

If the driver of another vehicle caused the bus accident, you have recourse against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Ridesharing Services

What if you’re injured while using a ridesharing service like Lyft or Uber?  If you have been in an accident where another driver hits your Uber ride, the at-fault driver will be liable for your injures. You’ll file a claim with that driver’s insurance company.

But if your driver was at fault, whom you recover from may vary.

Generally speaking, ridesharing drivers are required to obtain their own state-approved personal auto insurance. This requirement means you would file a claim with the Uber driver’s insurer. However, there should also be coverage available from the ridesharing service’s insurer.

Child Passengers

Persons younger than the age of 18 are considered minors and can’t legally file a claim for themselves. A minor victim’s parent or legal guardian must file the claim.

The statute of limitations for most children involved in car accidents is longer than if an adult was hurt, commonly not beginning until the child reaches the age of 18.

After a court approves a settlement for a child victim, the parent or guardian must accept it as well. Sometimes child victims receive the settlement upon turning 18, while other times, they receive portions of it over a specific period.

Steps to Take After a Car Accident

Similar to an auto accident in which you’re a driver, there are specific actions that you can do to increase your likelihood of success in receiving compensation.

Immediately after the collision:

  • Call 911 – tell the dispatcher if you or anyone else might be injured
  • Collect information from the drivers involved
  • Take as many videos and photos of the scene as you safely can, or ask someone else to take pictures
  • Allow paramedics to take you to the hospital if they think you should go
  • If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, seek medical attention as soon as possible, preferably the same day

During your recovery:

  • Write down everything that happened, while the events surrounding the collision are fresh in your mind
  • Request a copy of the police report
  • Gather copies of your medical records, medical bills, and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses
  • Create an accident file, with copies of all your reports, correspondence with insurance companies, and your notes
  • Notify the insurance company of your intent to file an injury claim

Motor vehicle accident cases can get complicated, especially when the passenger may be eligible for compensation from multiple sources. Complex car accident claims need the expertise of a personal injury attorney to get the best results for an injured passenger.

A skilled attorney knows how to get proof of liability, like the other driver’s cell phone records, that you’d have a hard time getting on your own.

Your attorney can also discover additional insurance coverage. For example, a teen driver with divorced parents may be covered by both parents’ auto policies, or an adult driver may have a separate umbrella policy in addition to their car insurance.

Most car accident lawyers offer free consultations and will work on a contingency basis. The attorney won’t get paid unless your case settles or you win an award in court.

Don’t let the big insurance companies have the last word. There’s no obligation, and no cost to find out what an attorney can do for you or your loved one.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>