What Happens When You're an Injured Passenger in a Car Crash
The Law Allows Passengers a Claim Against Their Own Drivers
What happens if you're riding as a passenger in a friend's car, and the driver causes a crash in which you're injured? Can you bring a claim for injuries and damages? The answer under California law is "yes." While it may seem surprising that you can bring a claim against someone doing a favor by driving you in their car, the duty to act reasonably behind the wheel is always present. Every motorist operating a vehicle on a roadway in Orange County, or anywhere in this State, must use "reasonable care in driving a vehicle..[and] must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about three million people are nonfatally injured in motor vehicle crashes in the United States each year. While detailed statistics on the number of passenger injuries are not well documented, the total loss to the victims associated with injuries and deaths from motor vehicle crashes is in the tens of billions of dollars.
It should be remembered that the vast majority of these claims impact only the insurer for the driver and not the driver themself. The insurance carrier for the careless driver is the party actually paying the injury claim in nearly all of these cases. While sometimes a lawsuit is necessary to resolve an automobile accident injury claim, the vast majority of cases settle prior to trial.
Examples of Passenger Cases
It is not at all uncommon for solo car accidents to cause injuries to the driver and negligent-free passengers. For example, in one recent case involving a solo car collision an 18-year-old driver crashed her car into a tree in Chino, causing the car to catch fire. Tragically, this crash resulted in the death of the driver and injuries to the two passengers in the car. Police officers responding to the scene actually rescued the injured passengers from the fiery crash.
While the cause of the accident is still under investigation, the accident may have been the result of neglect by the young driver, and the injured passengers would therefore be entitled to bring a claim against her automobile insurance carrier for compensation. However, it should be kept in mind there may be a number of other factors such as the condition of the roadway, mechanical issues with the vehicle, etc., that may have come into play in causing or contributing to the crash.
In an earlier case handled by Mr. Ralph's office, the driver of a car with five passengers on board traveled up a local mountain road and lost control in a curve at a high rate of speed. While driving in the dark, the careless driver veered off the road at the tight curve and down a steep hillside. All of the young passengers were injured, including one of whom suffered a severe spinal cord injury. Because of the driver's excessive speed and lack of control, the driver's insurance carrier was obligated to pay these injured-passenger claims.
What these cases have in common is one thing: passengers who were injured because of circumstances beyond their control. When a driver acts carelessly behind the wheel, they endanger not only themselves but every single person in their car. A careless driver's actions can not only impact the people they injure but the families who must live with the aftermath.
What To Do When You're An Injured Passenger
As with any injury accident, evidence gathering is very important to establishing and proving your case. Taking photographs at the scene (if practical), getting the names of witnesses to the crash and making sure injuries are documented by a health care professional, go a long way to later proving a case. Don't rely on someone else (not even the investigating police officer) to prove YOUR case. You have rights as an injured passenger after a car crash.
It is very common for a driver's insurance carrier to reach out to passengers injured by their insured in order to take a recorded statement. It is a common practice for these insurance carriers to take these statements (usually over the phone) very soon after an accident. The insurers appear to do this with regularity in the apparent hope that they will get to the injured parties early, before they have a chance to realize the full nature and extent of their injuries. It is best not to speak to an adverse insurance adjuster until well after an accident and after enough time has passed to ensure the injuries are known. Additionally, it is perhaps the best practice to have an attorney representing you during the statement to make sure the questioning is fair.
Mr. Ralph has nearly 30 years of experience at handling personal injury claims, and he has been representing Orange County auto accident victims for nearly all of his career. When you're an injured passenger, contacting a seasoned attorney can be the most important step you take toward ensuring compensation for all of the injuries and damages sustained.