Can an Injured Passenger Sue the Driver After a Car Accident?
Most drivers understand what to do when they get into traffic accidents: remain at the scene, swap information with the other driver and file an insurance claim. As a passenger riding in the vehicle, however, your responsibilities and rights might not be as clear. You may not understand if and when you can file an injury claim or who may be liable for your damages. As an injured passenger involved in a Virginia auto accident, the law may entitle you to monetary compensation for your injuries from one or both drivers.
What Is Your Rights as a Passenger Under Virginia Law?
Virginia uses a variation of the no-fault insurance law. It is an add-on no-fault state. Drivers may either use fault-based insurance policies or pay extra for no-fault insurance. After a collision, the insurance company the driver seeks compensation from will depend on his or her type of insurance. With fault-based insurance, the driver will seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. No-fault insurance means the injured driver will file a first-party claim with his or her own insurance company regardless of fault.
As a passenger, your rights are different than if you were the driver. Since you did not cause the accident, you will not have to involve your auto insurance provider (in most situations). Instead, you will bring a claim with the at-fault party’s insurer for your medical bills, property damages, lost wages and other losses. This could be the driver of your vehicle or a third-party driver depending on the circumstances.
Before you file an insurance claim as an injured passenger in Virginia, you may have to determine the identity of the at-fault party. This may take involving the police, hiring investigators or contacting an accident attorney. Once you have identified the party at fault, you will file an insurance claim with that party’s provider for the full amount of your damages, supported by evidence such as medical records and pay stubs. The insurance company of the person driving you or the other driver may offer you a settlement for your damages.
If both drivers were at fault for the accident, both may owe you compensation. The driver in your vehicle may first have to pay for your damages up to his or her policy’s maximum. If this does not cover the full value of your damages, the other driver’s insurance company may step in to pay the remainder. You cannot, however, recover more money than your injuries are worth. You may only do this through a personal injury claim with the help of a Richmond car accident attorney.
If you were related to the at-fault driver, you may not be eligible to bring a claim against his or her auto insurance company. If your relative had no-fault, collision or comprehensive insurance, his or her insurance might cover your damages. If not, however, you may have to pay out of pocket for your losses since most insurance companies prohibit covered individuals from pursuing liability claims against the policies that cover them.
Exceptions for Unique Situations
If you get into an accident while a hired person is driving you around, that person’s employer might be liable for damages rather than the individual driver. A taxi company, for example, could be vicariously liable for the negligence of one of its taxi drivers if you get into an accident as a passenger. A rideshare company, however, will not be vicariously liable for its drivers in most situations. Uber and Lyft drivers are independent contractors and will therefore be personally responsible for the rideshare accidents they cause. Both rideshare companies have $1 million insurance policies, however, to cover injured passengers when their at-fault drivers are on duty.
If your injuries or damages are serious, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver outside of Virginia’s insurance system. A lawsuit could end in greater compensation for your losses as an injured passenger than agreeing to a settlement from an insurance company. Discuss your unique car accident case and the right to damages as an injured passenger with an attorney for more information and personalized legal advice.