In early March, a corrections officer drove his car into a utility pole while under the influence. He was carrying a fellow corrections officer as a passenger at the time, although the two were off duty. The driver refused to take a breath test at the scene, and his passenger was taken to Elmhurst Hospital with head trauma and serious injuries.
The story made headlines around the state and has many wondering if a passenger of a vehicle can file a lawsuit after an accident. Passengers may wonder if they are going to be held liable, how insurance issues will affect compensation, and whether or not they can file a lawsuit against the driver.
These are all concerns you might have if you are injured as a passenger in a car accident. According to New York law, injured passengers have many options for pursuing compensation.
Passenger Liability in a Car Accident
All car accident cases turn on the question of liability, or who was at fault. As a passenger, you cannot be considered at fault. It does not matter if you were talking to the driver or playing music really loudly. Your actions did not cause the accident.
The driver is expected to maintain control of the vehicle. If your actions are impacting the driver’s ability to do that, then he or she has the right to ask you to stop, or even to get out of the vehicle. Someone not in control of the vehicle cannot accept blame, and it is really as simple as that.
Insurance Issues After a Car Accident
If there is one area that can get complicated after a car accident, it is dealing with the insurance company. Insurance is an issue in any car accident, and it gets particularly tricky when you are a passenger who has been injured.
New York is a no-fault state, which means that each driver will go through his or her own insurance company to claim accident benefits. If you have your own auto insurance, you can go through your own insurance company, or that of the driver with whom you were riding at the time. Insurance will only provide benefits up to the driver’s coverage limit. Insurance issues become even more complicated when there were multiple passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident. The insurance limit will cover all passengers, meaning that injured passengers will have to split the insurance coverage evenly. When one passenger is severely injured and another sustains only minor injuries, this can cause even more problems when determining how insurance benefits are divided.
To make insurance issues a little more complicated after being injured as a passenger during a car accident, there is also the possibility that the car you were riding in did not belong to the driver. When that is the case, and the vehicle was borrowed from someone else, you may have to file an insurance claim with the owner’s insurance company, not the driver’s. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine which insurance company is the right one to contact.
Filing a Lawsuit as a Passenger
In many car accident cases, even when insurance benefits are received, they are often not enough to cover the cost of injuries. This is true regardless of whether a passenger files a claim with his or own insurance company, or that of the driver.
When this is the case, passengers can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. The only time this is not applicable is when the passenger is related to the driver of the vehicle. In these cases, the family member is considered an insured and as such, cannot file a lawsuit against the driver.
Just like insurance issues, car accident lawsuits can become incredibly complex. For example, injured passengers can only sue for the amount of their injuries. If there is more than one driver at fault, you can still only claim the total amount of your injuries from both drivers combined.
For example, imagine you are riding down the road with your friend behind the wheel. She approaches an intersection while speeding, while another driver makes a left-hand turn through the intersection. Your friend hits the other driver.
In this case, both drivers are at fault. Your friend should not have been speeding while approaching an intersection, and the other driver should have ensured the way was clear to make the turn. You have sustained serious injuries and would like to file a lawsuit.
While this is possible, you can still only claim the total amount of your injuries. If that amount is $50,000, you cannot sue your friend for $50,000 and also sue the other driver for $50,000. You must file one lawsuit against both parties and will only claim a maximum of $50,000.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a time limit that determines how long an injured individual has to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. In New York, a lawsuit involving a car accident must be filed within three years from the date of the accident. After this time, the courts will likely throw the case out and bar injured individuals from seeking compensation. The lawsuit does not have to be finalized before the three-year mark; it only has to be filed within that time frame. This may sound like a lot of time to file a claim, but it is not. Before filing a lawsuit, an attorney will want to determine liability, which can include speaking to eyewitnesses or even reconstructing the accident scene.
This all takes time. As such, it is best for anyone injured in a car accident to speak to an attorney who can help as soon as possible.
Injured as a Passenger? Speak to a New York Personal Injury Lawyer
When an injured passenger files a lawsuit after a car accident, the victim often assumes it will be an open-and-shut case. Unfortunately, it rarely is. Insurance claims get denied all the time, and a victim may not receive the full amount of compensation to which he or she is entitled without the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
If you have been injured in a car accident, reach out to a New York car accident lawyer as soon as possible after the accident. An attorney will advise on the facts of the case and provide insight to the many different issues that will crop up. Most importantly, a lawyer will fight for the rights of those injured in court to get them the full amount of compensation they deserve.
If you have been injured in an accident, call us today and learn more about what we can do for you. We want to help you during this time of recovery, and will work hard to get you compensation that will allow you to do just that.