California Passenger Rights in Car Accident Claims
In California, passengers have the right to compensation for their medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering after a car crash. Navigating the auto insurance claims process can feel overwhelming. Knowing who to file a claim against as a passenger may be difficult if multiple people are involved in the accident.
If you were injured in a car accident as a passenger, it is crucial to work with an experienced Glendale car accident attorney. Your attorney will help you navigate the legal process and protect your right to compensation for your injuries and damages.
Who is Liable if I Was the Passenger in a Car Accident in California?
According to Narbeh Shirvanian from The Shirvanian Law Firm, “Drivers must operate vehicles in a reasonably safe manner to keep passengers safe. If a driver fails to do so, they risk being sued for negligence because passengers have the same rights as drivers.”
Under California’s car accident laws, the party responsible for the accident must compensate injured victims, including passengers. A passenger injured in an accident can file a claim against the at-fault party’s insurance policy and receive compensation within the policy’s injury and property damage coverage limits.
Car accidents can sometimes have multiple at-fault parties. For example, a collision can happen when one driver speeds as the other fails to yield at an intersection. In such cases, comparative negligence becomes a factor when determining compensation under California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)’s Rule 405
To establish fault, you must prove that one of the parties caused your injuries and that their negligence contributed to the accident. Video and photo evidence, witness statements, and the police report can help the court and insurance companies determine who is responsible for the accident and award you a settlement.
When is a Passenger Liable in a California Auto Accident?
Under CACI’s Rule 711, passengers do not need to monitor road conditions; however, they can expect a driver to take reasonable care for their safety as a passenger in their vehicle.
Passengers can take reasonable steps to protect themselves if there is an imminent danger. However, California Vehicle Code 21791 prohibits people from intentionally disrupting the driver’s operation of the vehicle. If the passenger takes control of the vehicle from the driver, they may be partially liable for the crash. The California Court of Appeals ruled in Navarrete v. Meyer that passengers can be held responsible even if they did not physically interfere with the driver but caused an accident in other ways, such as providing unsafe instructions.
To deny your claim, the insurance company will look for any evidence that an injured passenger partially caused their injuries. For instance, they could argue that you distracted the driver during the collision by grabbing the steering wheel, causing them to crash.
The percentage of liability you share in the crash could reduce your compensation under California’s pure comparative negligence doctrine. A personal injury attorney from The Shirvanian Law Firm can help you prove the driver’s liability in the crash and help you seek damages as an injured passenger.
Types of Damages in a Passenger Car Accident Claim
The compensation you receive in a car accident settlement as a passenger depends on the circumstances of your accident. For instance, you may incur expensive medical bills for emergency treatment and rehabilitation from a rear-end accident.
Your attorney from The Shirvanian Law Firm can review damages you may be entitled to in your claim, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
You may recover compensation for your medical bills after an accident. These damages can cover expenses from the date of the accident and future medical costs related to your injuries, including:
- Emergency hospitalization, including surgeries and additional medical treatments
- Prescription medications
- Diagnostic testing and lab tests such as bloodwork, CT scans, and MRIs
- Follow-up appointments with medical specialists
- Costs associated with long-term home or facility nursing care if your injuries require ongoing medical attention and treatment
If you suffered severe injuries such as a spinal injury, your doctor might require you to undergo a rehabilitation program. The program includes occupational, speech-language, and behavioral therapies to help you adapt to your injuries and learn new ways to perform daily activities. These rehabilitative expenses may increase the amount you receive in a car accident passenger settlement.
If you cannot work due to the injuries sustained in a car accident, you may be entitled to recover lost wages as part of your claim. Lost wages include regular pay, overtime, commissions, bonuses, personal or sick leave, and vacation days. Your attorney may also seek to recover future lost income if your injuries prevent you from working the same or a similar job.
Pain and Suffering
Car accident injuries can affect not only your physical well-being but also your quality of life. Your attorney will evaluate how much your injuries caused you pain and suffering by referring to your medical records and any photographic or video evidence documenting your recovery.
Pain and suffering for a passenger car accident claim include these damages:
- Physical pain and suffering from your injuries
- Loss of enjoyment in everyday life
- Emotional distress resulting from the accident
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Reduction in quality of life
You may be entitled to compensation for damaged personal property from the accident. Personal property could include laptops, phones, or other belongings in the car at the time of the accident. If these items were damaged due to the crash, you might recover the cost of repairing or replacing them in your settlement.
What Are the Exceptions for Pursuing an Accident Claim as a Passenger?
As a passenger, you may have limited rights when the at-fault driver is a family member or does not have adequate coverage to pay for your damages. The following situations may limit your ability to receive a settlement:
The At-Fault Driver is a Relative
California’s insurance law states that liability insurance does not cover injuries for people in an at-fault driver’s family. Instead, you receive compensation from the driver’s medical payments coverage. This coverage pays the cost of medical expenses and immediate medical care, regardless of who is responsible for the accident.
The Other Driver Has Insufficient or No Auto Insurance Coverage
Your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) can cover you if the negligent driver has insufficient or no auto insurance. This coverage allows you to recover financial restitution from your auto insurer if you cannot obtain it from the at-fault driver.
California requires insurance companies to offer UM/UIM coverage, but drivers may choose not to include it in their policies. If you don’t have this coverage, look into your medical payments coverage in your policy and refer to your health insurance to compensate you for your injuries.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident as a Passenger
Documenting the accident thoroughly and receiving medical care can protect your right to compensation as a passenger. The following steps will help you and your attorney in determining liability and proving the other party’s negligence:
Seek Medical Attention
The risk of severe abdominal injuries is higher in passengers than drivers, and traumatic brain injuries are more common among rear-seat passengers. No matter how minor your injuries may seem, see a healthcare provider immediately. Some symptoms of mild brain injuries, like nausea and headaches, may appear hours or days later.
Seek medical attention for any pain, numbness, or headaches you experience following a car accident. Your provider will conduct diagnostic tests to determine if you suffered any injuries and give you a treatment plan for your recovery. Your treatment documentation helps your attorney assess your settlement and negotiate with the insurance company.
Take pictures of any vehicle damage, including the interior and exterior of the car. Take photos or video footage of the accident scene to document the surrounding environment and any contributing factors like wet roads, skid marks and damaged structures like street lights.
Photos and videos of your injuries can also indicate the extent of harm caused by the accident. For example, a video of your rehabilitation process can help establish your injuries’ severity and how it has impacted your life to win you maximum compensation.
Obtain Contact Information
If you’re an injured passenger, gather the contact details of all drivers and passengers involved in the accident to use when filing a claim. This includes their names, phone numbers, email addresses, license plate numbers, and insurance information.
If anyone witnessed the accident and offered assistance, ask for their names and contact information. The police will interview them for the report, but you can still ask the witnesses for the contact details so your attorney can interview them and gather testimony for your case.
Get the Police Report
A police report outlines important details about the accident, such as how it happened, the drivers’ statements, and the officer’s conclusion about who is responsible for the crash. You or your attorney can request a police report by submitting a Collision Request Form and providing your personal information.
The form should include the date and location of the accident, names of drivers and owners of vehicles involved, insurance information, and personal contact details. There is a fee of $10 for reports up to 25 pages and additional costs for longer reports.
What are my rights as a passenger in a car accident in California?
Passengers expect drivers to take reasonable care of their safety while on the road. If the driver fails to do so, passengers share the same rights as drivers to pursue compensation for negligence.
Who can a passenger sue to claim compensation?
Passengers can sue the party responsible for the accident. If multiple parties are at fault for an accident, insurance companies and the court will consider comparative negligence to determine the percentage of liability.
How much money can a passenger get in a car accident claim?
Settlements for car accidents may range from $3,000 to $75,000. However, the amount of your car accident passenger settlement will depend on the unique circumstances of your accident and your economic and non-economic damages.
Can a passenger be liable for a car accident?
If a passenger interferes with the vehicle’s operation, the passenger can be responsible for the accident. They may be held responsible even if they did not physically intervene, such as giving dangerous directions to a driver.
Request Free Claim Review
After seeking medical treatment for your injuries, contact an experienced attorney from The Shirvanian Law Firm and your attorney will review the evidence for your case and attempt to prove the other party’s liability in the crash. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.