What Are My Rights as an Injured Passenger in a Car Accident?
If you’re a passenger in a vehicle and suffer injuries in an accident, legally, you’re in a relatively good position. California is a pure comparative negligence state, so your recovery is reduced by your share of fault in causing the accident or your injuries. Unless you were distracting the driver in some way or not wearing your seatbelt, you’re not at fault. Ideally, the only issues should be whose insurance company pays your claim and how much. But passenger injury claims in automobile accidents can be complicated by in multiple ways.
Callaway & Wolf represents vehicle accident victims so they can get the compensation they deserve. Founded 26 years ago by Boone Callaway and Carl Wolf, we provide individual, attentive, and conscientious legal help to our clients and their families. If you’re injured in an accident, call us today at 415-541-0300 to schedule a free consultation so we can talk about your accident and your best options to get compensation.
Do I Have a Right to Compensation as an Injured Passenger?
If you’re injured in a crash and suffer harm because of a negligent driver, you should receive compensation. In most cases, that comes when the injured party negotiates and accepts a settlement offer from the insurance carrier covering the driver.
If there’s no settlement, the dispute can go to trial, where you’d have the burden of proving your case. Your right to compensation only applies if your case is successful. If you can’t establish that you were injured in the accident, you suffered damages, or that other parties are the cause, you’ll lose the case and receive no compensation.
What Do I Need to Show to Prove the Accident’s Cause?
You need to prove someone else caused the accident. That party could be the driver of your vehicle, the one controlling another that hit you, or both. Negligence is a legal theory used by plaintiffs (those filing cases). To have a successful case you need to establish:
- The defendant (the party sued) owed you a legal obligation or duty. That could be to drive reasonably under the circumstances in a reasonably safe vehicle
- The defendant broke or breached that obligation or duty. The driver may have been speeding, distracted by a smartphone, or intoxicated when the accident happened
- That breach caused your injuries. The defendant lost control of the vehicle, or it didn’t stop in time, it collided with your vehicle, and the force of the crash caused your injuries
- Your injuries resulted in damages (the harm caused measured in dollars). You suffered pain, emotional distress, anxiety, a permanent disability, scarring, you paid medical bills, and lost income temporarily or it’s expected to continue into the future
- The party at fault is obligated to pay you for your damages
You don’t have to prove your driver was negligent (unless they’re a defendant). It could be anyone playing a role in causing the crash. It might be:
- Your driver
- Another driver
- A truck driver whose load fell onto the highway and started the crash
- A government entity responsible for the dangerous and poorly designed intersection that’s been the scene of prior accidents, including yours
What Role Does Comparative Negligence Play?
Under California state law your recovery can be reduced by your share of the blame for the accident or your injuries. If you were bothering your driver who couldn’t focus on traffic and he caused the crash, a jury would determine how much fault is yours. If it’s 50%, you’d lose half of your recovery.
If you weren’t wearing a seat belt and that failure made your injuries a third worse, what you’d collect would be cut by a third. If you were a safe and responsible passenger, your recovery shouldn’t be reduced at all. Many types of injuries are not affecting by the lack of a seatbelt, though, so unrestrained passengers do not always face problems due to this issue.
Can Multiple-Person Injuries Reduce Compensation?
Car accident recoveries primarily come from insurance policies covering drivers and vehicle owners. Those policies have limits on what the insurance companies are obligated to spend. As more people make claims on a policy, potentially, the recovery shrinks.
If the total amount of damages exceeds the policy limit, the driver or vehicle owner may pay from their personal or company funds (if a business vehicle is involved), but that’s fairly rare. A lot of times, drivers with lower insurance limits don’t have many assets.
If there are many injured people and multiple parties potentially responsible, there could be several defendants, each one with at least one policy that may cover the accident. If negotiations are successful, more than one insurance company could contribute to your overall settlement.
Another factor that can complicate a passenger injury claim is when there is a dispute about which driver is at fault. In this situation, even though no one is blaming you, you cannot get full compensation in a settlement. Sometimes, for example, both insurance carriers are taking the position that their driver is significantly less than 50% at fault.
And, like in any injury case, the insurance carrier may simply under-value your passenger injury claim. This is much more likely to happen when you do not have a lawyer, or when you have a high-volume injury law firm representing you, who the carrier knows will always take what is offered. We are not that type of firm. We will file suit and hold out for a fair settlement for our clients, and we have that reputation. Sometimes simply filing suit proves to a carrier that we mean business. Many cases have seen good increases in the settlement offers shortly after filing suit. When that happens, the fees do not increase. Unlike many other firms, our fees do not change when we file a lawsuit. It is only much later that there is a slight increase in fees, when a trial or mediation date is set.
Get the Help You Need from Lawyers You Can Trust
If you’re injured as a vehicle passenger because of another’s negligence or intentional act, Callaway & Wolf can help. A consultation with a lawyer will be free, and we work on a contingency fee basis, so you won’t pay us unless you obtain compensation.
Call us today at 415-541-0300 to schedule a consultation at our San Francisco or Oakland office to discuss your case, how California law may apply, and how we can help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Boone Callaway is a personal injury & medical malpractice lawyer in San Francisco who has been working with clients in the Bay Area for over 25 years. Mr. Callaway is one of only a few personal injury litigators in San Francisco who is a Super Lawyer, AV Rated and is also a member of ABOTA – American Board of Trial Advocates.