After a bad car accident, a lot of focus is put on the drivers involved, but passengers in the crash have rights and responsibilities too.
About a third of all people involved in crashes are passengers, federal crash data shows.
In Washington state, passengers injured in car, truck, or motorcycle collisions can sue or file claims against the at-fault driver to pay for medical bills and other damages.
An injured passenger will still need to keep his or her guard up, though, because it is not beyond an insurance company to try to blame a victim in the passenger's seat for causing a crash.
At Herschensohn Law Firm, PLLC, our firm has fielded many questions from passengers involved in car accidents in the Seattle Metro area. Below, we provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Are passengers covered by car insurance?
Washington is a fault state, which means you can file a claim for damages with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If the at-fault driver’s insurance company won’t cover all the costs or rejects your claim, you can file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the driver who caused the crash.
Washington is also a “comparative negligence” state, which means various people can bear a percentage of responsibility for causing an accident. If you are found to be 10% at fault for an accident, for example, it means you can seek payment for 90% of your damages.
What happens if you are a passenger in an accident?
After an accident, your passive role as a passenger is over.
You do not have to, nor should you, sit back and let the drivers and insurance companies decide what happens to you next. It’s time for action.
Here’s what you can do
- Make a timeline. Write down as many events about the crash as possible to establish a record of the accident. Include when, where, and how the accident happened while the incident is still fresh in your mind. This can be an excellent piece of evidence to support your claim later.
- Take photos of the accident and your injuries.
- Call the police. Regardless of how minor the accident may appear; it is important to call the police after every wreck. Some injuries won’t reveal themselves for days later. The responding officer will make an accident report and identify the people involved, as well as any witnesses. It can be easier for an at-fault driver to deny responsibility without an official record of the crash.
- Identify witnesses and get their contact information.
- Accept medical treatment. Get examined at the scene of the accident and see a doctor as soon as you can afterward. Even if you feel fine, accept a medical checkup from emergency responders. They may be able to identify injuries you are too shocked or stunned to realize. Even if you were examined at the scene of an accident, it is important that you see a medical professional as soon as possible. Internal injuries and organ damage are not always detectable with the on-the-go equipment emergency responders use. In the chaos of a crash situation, it is also possible for a serious injury to go unnoticed.
- Say as little as possible. Cooperate with the police and do provide your contact information, but do not elaborate on the details of the accident until you have spoken with an attorney. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could get you blamed for the accident.
- Contact a lawyer. A car accident attorney can review the details of your case, answer your questions, and explain your legal options. This can be done at no cost during a free consultation, which is something most if not all personal injury law firms offer. If you decide to hire a lawyer for your case, you typically do so on a contingency fee basis. That means there are no upfront costs and you pay nothing unless the attorney secures financial compensation on your behalf.
- File a claim. After consulting with an attorney to decide your best path forward, you can file a claim for damages with the at-fault driver(s) including the person who was driving the vehicle you were in at the time of the crash. You may also need to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. The compensation you are seeking should cover current and future medical expenses related to the accident, your pain and suffering, lost wages, destroyed property, and other damages.
Can a passenger be held responsible for an accident?
It’s rare, but there are circumstances in which a passenger can be found at fault or partially at fault in an accident.
Passengers can be held responsible if they contributed to the accident by taking control or attempting to take control of the driver, steering wheel, brakes, gear shift, or other vehicle function or otherwise did something disruptive while the car was driving.
Simply talking with the driver could be considered disruptive in some cases and earn a passenger a share of the blame. With more attention being paid to the dangers of distracted driving recently, a savvy insurance adjuster could use any indication of a conversation as a reason to challenge your claim.
Can a passenger sue a not-at-fault driver in an accident?
You cannot successfully sue someone for damages if they did not have any part in causing the accident. But there are often more people responsible for a crash than just the drivers. In many cases, you can pursue compensation from others who had some responsibility for the accident including defective parts manufacturers or, if alcohol was a factor, the establishment that over-served the drunk driver.
If they want a fight, we’ll give them one
Herschensohn Law Firm is not afraid to take on the insurance companies and represent accident victims who have tough claims, including those involving passengers. We know how to build a strong evidence-based case and hammer away at the insurance companies until they make an appropriate offer.
We do not accept lowball settlements. If an insurance adjuster doesn’t want to act fairly, we have no problem taking the fight to court. We thrive on litigation and look forward to the opportunity to win your case in front of a judge and jury.
Attorney Zach Herschensohn confronts the insurance companies head-on and has won millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for clients. See what a personal injury lawyer with high energy and a strong work ethic can do for you.
Contact us today for a free consultation. Our office is located in Kent, WA and we serve clients throughout the Seattle Metro area.