What Injured Passengers Should Know About Auto Insurance Claims

Find out who should pay for passengers injured in a car accident and what to expect from their insurance companies.

Car accidents are undoubtedly scary. It can be hard to figure out how to proceed when you’re injured in a collision. Unfortunately, people are hurt every day in traffic accidents.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.5 million Americans end up in the ER every year, resulting in $118 billion in lifetime medical costs.¹

But what happens when you’re injured while a passenger in someone else’s vehicle? It can leave you further confused as to what steps to take next and how you can receive compensation. Here’s what you should know if you’re an injured passenger in a car accident.

Depending on the circumstances, you can bring a claim against the at-fault driver, the person driving the car you’re in, or against multiple drivers, if more than one is to blame for the crash.

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 the compensation you deserve.

Immediately after the collision: 

  • Call 9-1-1. Tell the dispatcher if you or anyone else might be injured
  • Collect information from the drivers involved, including:
    • Driver Name
    • Contact Information
    • Insurance Company & Policy
    • Vehicle Description
  • 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

Severe injury or complicated insurance claims are best handled by an experienced personal injury attorney to maximize the victim’s compensation. 

Insurance Coverage for Injured Passengers

Passengers injured in an accident may be eligible for compensation from multiple insurance policies. As an injured  passenger, you may be be able to seek compensation from the auto policy covering:

  • 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

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 covers the driver of a car 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. PIP 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) coverage

Medical Payment Coverage (MedPay) 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. MedPay 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 Coverage (BI)

A big part of any car insurance is bodily injury (BI) liability coverage, which can help cover an accident victim’s medical expenses 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, a state may require the following minimum limits:

  • $25,000 per person who is hurt or killed in an accident
  • $50,000 for each accident if several people are hurt or killed
  • $10,000 for property damage

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

Bodily Injury Liability typically pays for:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Replacement services like lawn mowing and child care
  • Pain and suffering

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

Example: Injuries Over BI Limits

Lori and her neighbor Carol are on their way to the store. Carol is driving her small car, and Lori is in the front passenger seat.

As they travel through an intersection, the driver of an SUV runs a stop sign, slamming into the side of  Carol’s car.

Lori is rushed to the hospital with serious injuries, including lower vertebrae damage. She incurs $65,000 in damages.

The SUV driver only carries the minimum bodily injury liability limit of $50,000 per person. Lori’s attorney accepts the policy limits of $50,000 from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Lori’s attorney then negotiates an underinsured motorist claim with Carol’s insurance company for the remaining $15,000 of her injury expenses.

Factors That Can Limit Compensation

As an injured passenger, you should have no trouble getting compensation for relatively 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 or similar circumstances. A passenger who fails in this duty may be blamed for contributing to the circumstances surrounding 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 events, the passenger’s acts can work to reduce the overall amount they can recover, or cause the amount to fall to zero.

Shared Blame for Injuries

Contributory negligence is a type of legal defense in a personal injury case that bars the injured party from receiving compensation. Insurance adjusters often use shared negligence laws as an excuse to deny or reduce personal injury claims.

Fortunately, only a few states have a pure contributory negligence law.  The law says that someone who is injured in an accident may not recover damages from the at-fault party if he or she is found to be even partially responsible for their injuries.

Comparative Negligence

Some states have abandoned the harsh contributory negligence laws for a more sympathetic comparative negligence system. Under this law, someone who is injured and found to be mostly liable can still recover from the other party for that party’s share of liability.

However, most states use a modified comparative negligence law, in which your claim can be denied if you’re equally (50 percent rule) or more to blame (51 percent rule) for the circumstances leading to your injuries.

Insurance adjusters are quick to blame the victims if it saves the insurance company from a big payout. You don’t have to let the insurance adjuster have the last word if you disagree with their distribution of blame for your injuries.

Example: Adjuster Blames Injured Passenger 

One winter evening, Marcos was out with his best friend, Neal. The young men shared a pitcher of beer, ate burgers and snacks, and watched a football game at a local pub.

James was driving them back to his house when he lost control on a snowy road, wrapping the car around a tree. Marcos was severely injured, incurring $100,000 in damages for his medical care and rehab.

Marcos’ attorney filed a claim with Neal’s insurance company. Although the policy had adequate liability limits to cover the claim, the insurance company refused to pay more than the $5,000 MedPay limits.

The adjuster argued that since the men had been drinking, Marcos only had himself to blame for getting into a car with an intoxicated driver, so he wasn’t entitled to liability compensation.

The attorney threatened to file a lawsuit on behalf of Marcos. He pointed out to the insurance adjuster that the police accident report showed Neal was under the legal blood alcohol limit, and he was not cited for DUI.

Further, the pub server and several other witnesses provided statements that Neal was not acting intoxicated, and there was no way anyone would have believed he shouldn’t be driving.

The attorney asserted that no jury would believe Marcos knowingly got into a car with an impaired driver, and would not apply shared negligence to his damage calculations.

After some back and forth, the claim was settled out of court for $95,000.

Accidents with Multiple Injury Victims

When multiple parties are injured, but there is limited insurance coverage, you may not receive full compensation for all of your damages from the at-fault driver.

Example: Head-on Collision Injures Five People 

Sharon and four friends are on the way to see a movie. Nathan is driving.  Before they make it to the theater, a texting driver crosses the center line and hits Nathan’s car head-on.

The texting driver didn’t survive the crash, and her passenger is severely injured.

Everyone in Nathan’s car survives, but all four sustain serious injuries.

The texting driver was covered by her mother’s auto policy, with bodily injury liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

The four injured people in Nathan’s car and the injured passenger in the at-fault driver’s car have injury damages totaling more than $250,000, including Sharon’s $45,000 damages.

The insurance company accepts full liability for the accident, but there’s not enough money to cover the injury costs of five claimants.

Most insurance companies will file an “interpleader action” to ask the court to decide how to divide up the available $100,000.

Sharon’s attorney will go to court on her behalf to get as big a share of the available funds as possible.

Depending on the state, the court might take into consideration if any of the five injured people have other sources of compensation, such as PIP, MedPay, or underinsured motorist coverage from Nathan’s policy or their own auto policy.

In these situations, injured victims might decide to sue the at-fault driver to recover all of the money that fully reimburses them. However, there is always the possibility that the liable party lacks the funds to pay.

Also, keep in mind that insurance companies usually require a signed “release of liability” for their insured before they will issue a settlement check.

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 – to be adequately compensated.

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 if your driver has one.

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 while riding in a work vehicle were caused by a collision with another vehicle driven by an at-fault driver, the at-fault driver is liable for your injuries. 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 differs from insurance company to 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.

In some situations, the ridesharing company may treat its drivers as employees. If so, you would file a claim with the company’s insurance provider.

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.

Children injured in a car accident may be entitled to:

  • Medical costs
  • Therapy and rehab expenses
  • Hospital bills
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Loss of ability to earn future income
  • Pain and suffering
  • (Sometimes) punitive damages

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.

Attorneys Handle Complex Claims

Automobile accident cases can get very complicated, especially when the passenger may be eligible for compensation from multiple sources. You can bet each insurance company will try to minimize the amount they have to pay.

PIP or MedPay claims for mild injuries can usually be settled directly with the driver’s insurance company. More serious injuries or complicated claims will 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 that would entitle you to compensation. 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.

All of this means that you could benefit from the help of a personal injury attorney to assist in getting the compensation you deserve.

Most injury attorneys 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.

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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 >>