In car accidents involving a driver and a passenger, one of the first questions people ask is “can the passenger sue the driver of the car that was responsible for the accident?”
The short answer is yes.
The car accident passenger can sue the driver of the car under the same legal theory that anybody (another car, a pedestrian) involved in the accident would use – negligence.
A driver is negligent if they’re found to have breached their “duty of care” when they got behind the wheel. The driver of the automobile owes their passengers a duty of care to drive safely. This includes avoiding collisions and safeguarding their passengers against injury. When the driver breaches this duty of care and it results in injury or damages, the driver can be considered negligent.
A negligent driver can be responsible for your injuries you suffer as the passenger. This can mean they’re responsible for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and any other damages you might have suffered as the passenger.
What if the driver is a friend or family member?
This can be complicated by the fact that the driver could be your family member or a friend. Often injured victims do not want to sue their friends for their injuries because they are afraid that a claim against their friend’s insurance company or a lawsuit may impact the friendship. But the reality is you are NOT suing your friend personally, you are really suing the insurance company who is ultimately responsible for paying on these claims.
Insurance is required in the state of California and it is there to provide for injury and damages. You’re only in a position to sue a friend personally if they are an uninsured motorist or are under-insured, meaning the insurance is insufficient to cover the damages.
What if the other driver was at fault?
As a passenger in a car accident, you also have the right to bring a claim or case against the other party involved if the automobile driver in the car in which you were traveling is not at fault. You should make sure to get all relevant information from the other driver such as:
- Telephone Numbers
- Insurance Information
- Vehicle Registration
Obtaining the vehicle registration is especially important because you may have a claim against the registered owner if that person is different than the driver under California’s permissive user rule. An example of this is an employee driving his or her employer’s vehicle that’s registered under the name of a company, or it could possibly be a minor driving a vehicle registered to his or her parents.
In that case, you would pursue a claim against the registered owner under such theories as negligent entrustment or negligent hiring along with the driver under a general negligence theory.
As a passenger, can I speak to the insurance company?
The short answer is yes, you may speak with the insurance company. However, for the well-being of your personal injury case, it’s highly recommended that you speak with your personal injury attorney before discussing your accident with an insurance adjuster.
The insurance company will definitely contact you because not only are you an injured party, but you’re also a valuable witness to what occurred. Even though insurance covers damages caused by automobile accidents, an insurance adjuster will not volunteer to give you as much as you may think your claim is worth or even as much as you need. The adjuster is an insurance company employee whose motivation is settling a claim quickly and for the least amount of money possible.
Insurance adjusters are notorious for trying to obtain a statement as soon as possible. It is important to know that even as the passenger of an auto accident, you are entitled to an attorney to assist you with the legal process and to avoid saying anything that may damage your case.
Special circumstances: What if I am the passenger on a motorcycle?
Liability here depends on a number of factors. California Vehicle Code Section 27800 states that it’s unlawful to carry another person on a motorcycle as a passenger unless the motorcycle has a seat securely fastened to the machine with foot rests. Another option for a passenger to ride on a motorcycle is to be seated in a sidecar attached and designed for the purpose of carrying passengers, the passenger must keep his or her feet on the foot pegs at all times while traveling on the back of the motorbike. If you’re unsure about your rights as a motorcyclist or passenger on a motorcycle, contact a motorcycle accident lawyer for further consultation.
What if I was not wearing a helmet?
Again, the California vehicle code is instructive; Section 27803 requires both the driver and the passenger to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle and the helmet must meet certain requirements. Therefore, if you’re the passenger and you have failed to follow the law, you would also be at fault if injured in an accident even if the ultimate cause was someone else.
Special circumstances: What if both parties are at fault?
There are situations where both drivers are at fault. Under the comparative fault doctrine in California which compares the fault of each and apportions a percentage of fault to each driver, both drivers are then responsible for the percentage assigned. Therefore, if your driver is only 20% at fault for the accident, they would be responsible for 20% of your damages and the other driver would be responsible for 80%.
As a passenger, am I entitled to an attorney?
Anyone injured in an automobile accident whether they are the driver, the registered owner of a vehicle, a passenger or an injured pedestrian is entitled to representation by an attorney. Often a skilled attorney can navigate complicated cases such as those involving passengers and negotiate better settlements with insurance adjusters. If you were involved in a car accident as a passenger and are seeking the compensation you deserve, contact personal injury attorney Frank D. Penny today.