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Can A Passenger Sue a Driver After a California Accident?

As a passenger in a car, you expect that the driver will act appropriately and safely. However, accidents happen, and as a passenger involved in a car accident, you are just as likely to be injured as a driver. Typically, in most cases, a passenger will be absolved of all liability with respect to the car accident itself. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the car accident, a passenger may or may not be able to sue the driver after a collision.

Options for Passengers Injured in California Car Accidents

As a passenger in a car accident, you are not liable for any damages unless you acted negligently or recklessly to intentionally distract the driver. If you were in a car accident, your options to receive compensation for your injuries can come from several places.

  • The Driver of the Vehicle You Were In.

As an injured passenger, you have the right to file a claim and sue the driver of the car in which you were a passenger. If the driver of your car was fully responsible for the car accident, you will file a claim against the driver’s insurance company. Remember that filing a claim against someone’s insurance company is not filing a lawsuit directly against the person.

However, if—for some reason—the insurance company does not pay, you have the right to then sue the driver directly for any medical expenses, lost wages, future wage loss, or pain and suffering caused by the car accident.

To prevail in your claim, you will have the burden of proving that the driver owed you a duty of care, he/she breached this duty by driving either recklessly or negligently, and their negligence was the actual and proximate cause of your injuries, which caused you damages.

There is no cap on the amount of compensatory damages you can sue for in a California personal injury claim. However, California law does place a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or disfigurement.

  • Any Other Driver Involved.

If another driver was partially or completely negligent and caused (or contributed to) the car accident, you have a right to sue them for any injuries you suffered as a result of their negligence. California follows a rule of comparative negligence when it comes to determining what party is responsible for injuries. This means that negligent parties are responsible for the degree to which their negligence contributed to the accident and your injuries. So, it is possible to recover damages from both the driver of the vehicle in which you were a passenger and another negligent driver.

  • Your Own Insurance Company If you were the owner of the vehicle, but not driving at the time of the car accident, you may be able to file a claim. An attorney can contact your insurance company to make this determination.

At Fault Driver Has No Insurance Coverage

If you discover that your driver, or any other driver responsible for the accident, does not have insurance coverage, you should check your own insurance policy to see if you have “Uninsured Motorist Coverage” or “Underinsured Motorist Coverage” coverage, as required under California law. These very specific car insurance provisions can provide you coverage and compensate you for your injuries.

Filing a Claim or Suing a Driver

If you were in a car accident, you should collect as much information at the scene as possible and keep records of all of your injuries and treatment. Be sure to take the following steps after you are involved in an accident as a passenger:

  1. Seek Medical Attention. If you were in an accident, it is likely that the police and possibly an ambulance will be at the scene. However, if you refuse medical treatment at the scene of the accident, you should seek medical attention within 72 hours of the accident to be evaluated by a medical professional. Some severe and serious injuries, such as whiplash and concussions, can go undetected for hours or days after a car accident. Make sure to take your health seriously.
  2. Exchange Information. Even though you were not a driver involved in the accident, you have the right to exchange information with all the drivers. This is important, in case you make the decision to file an insurance claim or file a lawsuit at a later date. Ensure that you obtain their driver’s license number, car insurance information, name, phone number, address, and license plate number.
  3. Determine the extent of your damages. Depending on the injuries you suffered in the car accident, you may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, future medical bills, property damage, lost wages, future lost wages, and pain and suffering.
  4. Build a Strong Case. As a passenger in the car accident, you likely have no liability (unless you were recklessly distracting or forcing the driver to crash). However, you still need to attempt to document as much information as possible. If you can take photographs at the scene of the car accident with your cell phone, it may help your case. Additionally, you should keep a record of all of your medical bills, lost wages, notes from your employer or any other documentation of your pain and suffering, such as a diary.
  5. Be Cautious and Careful with Insurance Companies. Insurance companies have teams of claims adjusters working hard on their side. Whether you are filing a lawsuit against your own driver or the driver of another vehicle, the insurance company may attempt to give you a very low settlement offer, or completely refuse to pay your claim.  Another tactic is to delay payments in an attempt to get a person to miss the statute of limitations deadlines and therefore be unable to file in a court of law. However, if you deal with an insurance company, make sure to be careful with your words, and have strong representation for negotiations.
Contact an Experienced Accident Attorney Today

If you or a loved one were injured as a passenger in a car accident, you have the right to sue any driver who was negligent in causing the accident that led to your injuries. At Silverthorne Attorneys, our knowledgeable and skilled accident attorneys help car accident victims recover the compensation they deserve for their injuries. For a complimentary consultation of your case, contact us at (949) 234-6034 or online today.

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