Whether or not they are riding with the at-fault driver, passengers in traffic collisions sustain serious injuries every day on California’s streets and highways.
Almost everyone – at one time or another – is a passenger, so it is important to know what your rights and options are if you are injured in a traffic accident while another person is driving.
More than two million non-drivers – that is, passengers and pedestrians – are injured in traffic crashes every year in the United States. That’s far too many injuries.
In the state of California, passengers who are injured in traffic collisions are entitled by law to complete compensation for their injuries and related damages.
IF YOU’RE INJURED AS A PASSENGER, HOW CAN A LAWYER HELP?
Do not try to obtain that compensation on your own. You’ll need a lawyer.
If you are injured in traffic as a passenger in Southern California, you must put your case in the hands of an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney as soon as you’ve been examined by a doctor or by another healthcare professional.
Let your personal injury lawyer negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf – while you stay focused on recuperating and regaining your health.
When passengers are injured in California traffic crashes, the central question becomes: Who will be held accountable to compensate the injured passenger for his or her medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and related damages?
If you’re injured as a passenger in a California traffic crash, you have the right to compensation from the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company, with one possible exception.
If the at-fault driver is a close relative you live with, you may be included in that driver’s auto insurance policy, and if so, you may be ineligible to file a claim against that policy.
HOW SHOULD INJURY VICTIMS DEAL WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES?
Your attorney can determine if, as an injured passenger, your own auto insurance policy or health insurance policy potentially offers you any compensation.
But don’t even speak directly to an insurance company or sign any settlement agreement or any other document. Let your attorney handle it all.
Injury victims without legal guidance might settle a claim for far less than the claim is actually worth. And if you agree to such a settlement, you may also be signing away your right to take further legal action.
So don’t sign anything, and don’t say anything to an insurance company. Simply refer the company to your injury attorney.
The overwhelming majority of personal injury cases arising from passenger injuries in California are settled privately and out-of-court, but if the insurance company fails to offer you a fair settlement in a reasonable period of time, your lawyer may recommend taking your case to trial.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AT THE ACCIDENT SCENE?
The steps taken immediately after a traffic crash can be crucial to the success of your injury claim, and no attorney will be at the accident scene to advise you. If you are injured in a traffic accident in California, here’s what you need to do:
1. If anyone in the accident needs medical attention, call 911. That’s the top priority.
2. After obtaining medical help, summon the police. Find out how you can get a copy of their accident report. Be cooperative, but stick with the facts, and do not admit any fault.
3. Take photographs of the crash site, damage to the vehicles, and your own visible injuries.
4. Make sure that you get both drivers’ contact information and insurance details. If there were eyewitnesses to the crash, try to get their names and contact information.
5. Don’t talk about the accident with anyone – and that means anyone – except your attorney.
6. Don’t refuse medical treatment at the crash scene if it’s offered. Even if you feel fine, have a healthcare professional examine you within 24 hours. Latent and hard-to-detect injuries can quickly become serious medical conditions, so do not fail to have a check-up.
7. Again, and this is important, do not talk to a claims adjuster or to any other insurance company representative. Refer all insurance company questions to your personal injury attorney.
WHAT IF THE DRIVER WHO INJURED YOU WAS UNINSURED?
If you are injured by a driver who has no automobile insurance, and you have uninsured motorist coverage of your own, you will have to submit your injury claim against your own insurance company.
In some of these cases, some auto insurance companies will try to avoid paying you – partially or entirely.
If you’ve been injured and you are entitled to compensation, an injury attorney will see to it that an insurance company meets its obligation to you.
There’s not much you can do about your own safety as a car, truck, bus, SUV, or motorcycle passenger. Vehicle safety is primarily the driver’s responsibility.
WHAT CAN PASSENGERS DO TO ENHANCE THEIR SAFETY?
Nevertheless, here are several ways that you can improve your chances of avoiding injury as a passenger:
1. Never ride with a driver who is impaired or intoxicated.
2. Wear your safety belt.
3. Offer to help the driver with maps or the GPS system, air and heat, and the sound system.
4. Don’t be a distraction to the driver.
5. If you see a hazard and the driver doesn’t see it, say something.
Buckling up is imperative. The Insurance Information Institute tells us that seatbelts saved an estimated 14,668 lives in 2016. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that seat belt use reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent.
IS THERE A TIME LIMIT FOR INJURY VICTIMS TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION?
If you’re injured in California traffic while you’re a passenger, you must act at once. Over time, evidence deteriorates, and witnesses forget. It’s critical to put a personal injury lawyer on your case as quickly as you can.
The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit in California is two years from the date of the injury, or – if the injury was latent or hard-to-detect – two years from the date of the injury’s discovery.
Don’t wait two years and scramble to file a last-minute lawsuit. Don’t even wait two weeks before speaking to a personal injury lawyer.
If you’ve been injured, your health and your future may be at risk, so you must stand up for your rights, make the call to a good personal injury lawyer, and get the legal help you need.