Do I Need My Own Lawyer as a Passenger in a Car Accident

Know Your Legal Rights as a Vehicle Passenger

Most passengers involved in vehicle accidents don't realize they have the same legal rights as the driver. Even when passengers are injured in an accident due to their driver's negligence, passengers suffering physical or emotional injuries that require medical attention can still file a personal injury claim and obtain the compensation they need and deserve.

Passengers in a car, truck or on the back of a motorcycle are just as vulnerable to serious injury as vehicle operators. In some cases, passengers are even more vulnerable to suffering a life-changing injury. For example, when the vehicle in which passengers are riding is T-boned by another car, injuries resulting from a T-bone accident are "crush" or "impact" injuries that can cause serious harm to the entire body. In addition, the passenger side of most vehicles are not as structurally sound as other parts of a vehicle. Only the door and window protects passengers from the destructive force of another vehicle traveling 50 or 60 miles per hour. Moreover, being a passenger who has sustained a concussion, fracture or painful whiplash is even more frustrating since passengers generally have no control of the situation.

Friend Liability vs. Stranger Liability--What's the Difference in a Vehicle Accident?

If you are a passenger in or on any moving vehicle, it makes no difference who is faulted for the accident. Passengers have the right to seek compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering and even lost wages from all other drivers. If another driver caused the accident, passengers riding in the non-fault vehicle can recover damages through "stranger liability", or the liability of the other driver. Assuming the other, at-fault driver has full-coverage on his vehicle, injured passengers generally have little difficulty receiving compensation with the assistance of a personal injury lawyer.

When the passenger's driver is responsible for an accident, passengers may seek compensation on the "friend liability" premise. Although it may be difficult for a passenger to file a vehicle accident claim against a friend or even a family member, it is a perfectly acceptable and necessary action since passengers should not be expected to bear the financial burden of expensive medical treatments, lost wages and painful, lengthy recovery times. In cases where injured passengers must take friends to court over a vehicle accident, it is best if the passengers hires their own car accident lawyer to manage all aspects of the case.

Single Car Accidents and Passengers

Even in single car accidents involving driver negligence, passengers can still sue for compensation.

For example, a driver lost control of his truck and allowed it to crash off a bridge because he was checking his cell phone. His passenger broke her leg and suffered whiplash. She filed a claim against the driver for her injuries and settled for $100,000 as a result of the accident and his negligence.

While this kind of "friend liability" case is fairly cut and dried, other claims involving single car passenger injuries may not be so simple. The driver's insurance company is likely to try one of many tricks to partially blame the passenger to avoid paying out a substantial compensation amount. This scenario could arise when drivers are intoxicated and passengers know the driver should not be operating a vehicle. However, an experienced accident injury attorney in Phoenix may be able to prove to the court that the passenger could not have predicted driver negligence, especially if the driver was only slightly intoxicated and the passenger was not aware that the driver had been drinking or taking drugs.

How is Compensation Determined for Passengers Injured in Vehicle Accidents?

Passengers injured in vehicle accidents have the right to receive compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages involve monies you deserve based on the amount of emotional or personal injuries you suffered as a passenger in a serious accident. Compensatory damages include but are not limited to present and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, present and future loss of income and property loss. Passengers who had valuable personal belongings (laptops, smartphones) in the vehicle at the time of the accident and lost the use of them may receive compensation to replace or repair their property.

Emotional Distress, Loss of Enjoyment and Loss of Consortium

To receive compensation for emotional distress, passengers must show they are suffering from insomnia, anxiety, PTSD or other serious psychological issues resulting directly from experiencing the accident. "Loss of enjoyment" is another compensatory injury defined as injuries that prevent you from participating in "enjoyable" activities, such as hobbies, spending time with children, etc. To receive compensation for "loss of consortium", your personal injury lawyer must show that your injuries have negatively affected your familial and/or marital relationship.

Punitive Damages

If you are a passenger involved in a vehicle accident in which the driver acted in a deliberately careless manner, you may be entitled to receive punitive damages in addition to other damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish those who act recklessly and without regard for another person's safety. Although not legally awarded to help injured passengers pay for medical bills, punitive damages can be used in a discretionary manner by those awarded such damages.  Punitive damage amounts vary widely and are based on the court's opinion regarding the recklessness of the at-fault driver.

What You Should Know about Filing a Passenger Injury Claim

Insurance carriers receiving vehicle accident claims from injured vehicle passengers will immediately launch their own investigation about the accident. Insurance agencies have savvy lawyers working for them who will do everything in their power to prove the passenger's driver was at fault in the accident. Passengers in vehicle accidents should consider contacting a personal injury attorney with car accident expertise as soon as possible to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve.

Compensable injuries include everything from whiplash, fractures and chronic headaches to back/neck injuries, diminished sensation and brain injuries. The best way to secure your personal injury case if you have been injured as a passenger in a vehicle accident is to seek medical help by visiting a hospital emergency center and by following steps to maximize your settlement after a car accident.