Passengers can suffer significant injuries in car accidents and may have a right to seek compensation for their losses. This includes seeking compensation from whoever caused the wreck, be it the driver of the other car or the driver of the car in which the passenger was riding if that driver was at fault.
Our Raleigh car accident attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. stand ready to help you put your life back together if you have been badly injured as a passenger. We can handle the legal issues – from determining fault to demanding compensation for you – so you can focus on your recovery.
If the driver of the car you were in was at fault, you should not hesitate to file an injury claim because of your relationship with a driver who is a friend or co-worker. Your driver will not pay the claim out of their pocket, their liability insurance must pay the claim. If their insurance premiums increase, it will be because they caused an wreck, not because you filed a claim.
Steps To Take If You Were an Injured Passenger in a Car Accident
As a passenger in a car crash, you can protect your rights by:
- Ensuring police are called to the scene. The police report is the first official documentation of what happened. Police will also record insurance information for each of the cars involved. Get a copy of the police report as soon as possible. While the police officer’s determination of fault is not binding on the insurance companies, it is very persuasive. Most of the time the insurance company will go along with the police officer’s determination.
- Getting medical care. A doctor’s diagnosis identifies the injuries you suffered in the accident. The medical records produced by the doctors and therapists are the main way your attorney can prove your pain and suffering. Be sure to follow all doctors’ orders. Be sure to file all medical bills with your health insurance, if you have it.
- Documenting the accident. If you are able, take photos of the accident – the vehicles, their damage, your injuries, other people involved, and anything that may have caused the crash. Save anything connected to the accident in the days and weeks ahead – bills, receipts, correspondence, and reports. Keep a written journal of your medical recovery, including progress and setbacks.
- Being careful with the insurance company. Don’t let an insurance adjuster trick you into downplaying your injuries or suggesting that you were at fault for your injuries. Do not give a recorded statement to an insurance company until you have consulted with an attorney. If an insurance adjuster offers a settlement, you should have a personal injury attorney review it. If you have hired a lawyer, refer all insurance inquiries to your attorney. In the large majority of cases, you should not even consider negotiating your personal injury claim until you have finished getting medical care and therapy.
How Does Insurance Coverage Work for Injured Passengers in North Carolina?
By law in North Carolina, any driver in an accident should have auto liability insurance. This is coverage that compensates people who the policyholder has injured.
In North Carolina the minimum liability coverage required to drive a car is $30,000 for bodily injuries per person or, if more than two people were injured, a total of $60,000 per accident. Liability insurance also has a property damage component for the vehicle damage.
Liability insurance policies sold in North Carolina also provide uninsured motorist coverage (UM). This coverage pays if an individual is injured by a driver who does not have car insurance. The limits of UM coverage are equal to the car owner’s liability coverage unless the car owner opts to buy additional coverage.
A car owner buying auto insurance in North Carolina will be offered underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). This provides coverage if the at-fault driver’s liability insurance isn’t enough to cover injuries suffered in a crash.
If the passenger owns a car that has UM or UIM, and the car in which they are a passenger either does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance to pay the full value of their claim, the passenger’s own car insurance will take over. These situations are complicated and require a detailed discussion with your attorney.
If the driver who caused the accident was in another car, you are covered by their liability insurance and, if necessary, the UM and/or UIM coverage of the driver of the car you were in.
If the driver of the vehicle you were riding in was at fault, you are covered by their liability insurance. If the at-fault driver is uninsured, you may turn to your own uninsured motorist coverage, or the UM or UIM policy of a family member you are financially dependent on.
Is a Passenger Ever at Fault?
You wouldn’t expect that a passenger – a person who rides in a vehicle but does not bear any responsibility for the operation of the vehicle – would be responsible for a car accident. But an insurer might deny liability for a passenger’s injuries if they:
- Seized control of the vehicle, such as by grabbing the steering wheel or pressing the accelerator
- Physically obstructed the driver, such as by covering their eyes
- Distracted the driver
- Rode with a driver who they knew was impaired by drugs, alcohol, or fatigue
- Rode with a driver during inclement weather and/or a state of emergency banning unnecessary travel
- Rode with a driver who was driving recklessly and do not adamantly protest and demand that the driver slow down and drive safely
- Rode with a driver whom they knew was not competent to drive, such as by not having a valid driver’s license
These are important considerations because North Carolina personal injury law operates under a doctrine of pure contributory negligence. Individuals seeking compensation for injuries in North Carolina are not eligible if they contributed in any way to the wreck that caused their injuries.
Insurers could certainly argue that placing yourself in a situation that a reasonable person would recognize as dangerous – such as by riding with an intoxicated driver or engaging in dangerous play such as seizing the wheel was negligence.
The insurance company would have to prove you were negligent, and that your negligence contributed to not just the accident, but your injuries as well. As your attorneys, we would work to minimize the impact of any evidence introduced of your negligence.
Contact Our Raleigh Car Accident Lawyers
You have rights if you were injured in an accident while a passenger in someone else’s car. It costs you nothing to discuss a potential car accident claim with an experienced legal professional. An attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. in Raleigh, NC can review the facts of your accident and discuss your legal options. If we handle your claim, we will deal with the insurers on your behalf and seek the full compensation you need. We are paid only when you receive a settlement or verdict.