When you suffer injuries in a car accident while riding as a passenger, you may be able to to pursue a claim for damages against the driver you were riding with. Your chances of success will depend on a number of factors, including whether your driver was insured, whether he or she was at fault for the crash, and whether you happen to live in a no-fault car insurance state. In this article, we'll look closer at each of these factors.
If the Driver Is Uninsured
Although all states have laws requiring drivers to carry minimum levels of car insurance, there are people who drive without insurance. If you are unfortunate enough to be injured while riding in a car driven by an uninsured driver, there will not be an insurance policy in force to pay your claim, unless someone else is deemed at fault for the crash. In this circumstance, you can either proceed directly against the driver and hope to collect a judgment from his personal assets or you can look to your own car insurance policy, which may afford you benefits under your uninsured motorist coverage. (Learn more about Car Accidents Involving Uninsured Drivers.)
If the Driver Was At Fault
Your driver's fault in causing the accident will determine whether you can bring a claim against him or her for your non-economic damages, which consist of pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of the ordinary pleasures of life, and similar negative effects of the accident and your injuries. If your driver was at fault, these types of damages can typically be recovered under the driver's insurance policy. If, however, you cannot establish the driver's fault, the insurance company will contest your claim. Of course, this would not preclude you from pursuing a claim against the driver(s) of the other vehicle(s) who might have caused the accident. As for your economic damages, such as medical bills and lost wages, your ability to recover from your driver will depend on whether you are in a no-fault insurance state.
(Note: Most states do not follow no-fault car insurance rules. Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah are the only states that follow some version of a no-fault car insurance system.)
Under a no-fault insurance system, you must look to your own insurance policy to pay you for your economic damages, regardless of who caused the accident, and your ability to sue the at-fault driver for your non-economic damages is usually restricted to accidents that cause injuries meeting a dollar-amount threshold (in terms of necessary medical expenses) or a legal threshold such as "serious impairment of body function" or "permanent serious disfigurement." States with no-fault systems will have statutory priorities that will tell you the order in which you are required to pursue your claims for economic damages. For example, the law may state that when you are an injured passenger riding in someone else's vehicle, you must first look to your own car insurance policy and then to your driver's policy. When in doubt about how you should proceed, you should contact your insurance agent for guidance. And, if you have sustained a serious injury, you may also want to contact a car accident attorney.
In states that follow a traditional fault-based car insurance system, as a passenger you could look to applicable car insurance policies to recover for both your economic and non-economic damages. If the driver of the car you were riding in is deemed at fault for the crash, his or her car insurance carrier will be on the legal hook for your losses, up to the policy limits. (Learn more about How Insurance Affects a Car Accident Case.)
Proving Fault and Exploring Other Options
To prove the driver's fault, you will want to obtain copies of the police report and all witnesses' statements. If you can't prove the driver's fault, you won't be able to make a claim under the driver's insurance policy, but you'll probably be able to get reimbursement for your medical bills through your own health insurance. And as noted above, if another driver was at fault in the accident, you would still have recourse against him or her for your economic and non-economic damages. Learn more about Car Accident Damages.