I was a passenger in a car accident, what do I do?
First, check and see if you or anyone else in the car is injured. Usually, the driver will call 911 to report the accident and request an ambulance if needed, but if for some reason they are unable to do so, you should call. If the driver of your car isn’t hurt, they will probably get out and talk to the other driver. While they’re doing this, it’s a good idea for you to look around the scene. Make note of where your car ended up, where the other car is, and anyone who looks like they might be a witness. You can also take pictures of the scene with your phone in case the drivers get distracted and forget to do so.
When emergency personnel arrives, you should let them check you out, even if your injuries seem minor. Sometimes people feel fine immediately after an accident but start to experience pain a few hours to a few days later. You may think it’s unconnected, but you should still see a doctor and let them know about your accident. Soft tissue injuries like whiplash may not show symptoms right away, but they can still end up causing you a lot of pain.
What Should You Do If You Were Injured And Now You Have Medical Bills?
In most cases, you would start by filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. What if you’re not sure who was at fault? By the time you get your medical bills, you should be able to get a copy of the accident report from whichever law enforcement agency responded to the crash. You can also ask the driver for their copy. This will sometimes, but not always, give you a clue which driver is likely at fault. In some cases, the police officer may not have enough info to determine fault so they won’t issue anyone a ticket. The truth is that in many accident cases, both drivers made mistakes that contributed to the crash.
This leads us to South Carolina’s modified comparative negligence laws. These apply to situations where one driver is mostly at fault, but the other party is also partly to blame. For example, maybe the driver of the other car ran a red light – definitely their fault. But what if the person driving your car was speeding, and might have been able to stop in time if they’d been going slower? Who is more at fault? As you can see, fault can be tricky to determine. Often when a driver files a claim against another driver’s insurance, the insurance adjuster may refuse to pay the claim due to the claimant’s “negligence” contributing to the accident.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the insurance company can prove the claimant was negligent. An attorney may be able to argue that these claims are incorrect, and the injured driver deserves to collect damages. Even if the injured driver is found to be somewhat at fault, they can still receive compensation if they were less than 51 percent at fault, but their damages will be reduced by the percentage they were at fault.
You, as a passenger, probably don’t have to worry about comparative negligence statutes in a direct way, although they can affect your case indirectly. Except in very rare situations (such as a passenger behaving erratically and grabbing the wheel), passengers are not usually accused of being at fault in the accident. Regardless of who is ultimately determined to be at fault, you should still be able to recover damages from someone. However, you may need to file claims with both parties’ insurance companies.
What if both insurance companies deny your claim, saying the other driver was at fault, or that your claim isn’t covered for some other reason? Sadly, this is not uncommon. Insurance companies are in the business of making money, and part of that is paying out as little as possible for claims. We often talk to people who can’t get help with their bills from either insurance company.
In this case, it’s best to consult a South Carolina personal injury attorney who offers free consultations. They can go over the details of the accident and lay out your options, of which there may be several. If it appears that one driver was all or mostly at fault, they may suggest focusing on that person’s insurance carrier first.
It’s also important to understand that the two drivers may also be making claims on each other’s insurance. They may have hired attorneys who are negotiating with one or both insurance companies, and this complicates matters. If one insurance company ends up paying the claim, it is likely your lawyer can convince them to pay your claim too.
If it appears both parties contributed to the accident, your attorney may attempt to seek compensation from both insurers to help you get enough money to cover all your costs. However, there may still be situations where this isn’t enough. For example, if your injuries were extensive, it’s possible your damages may exceed the limits of one or both policies. South Carolina law only requires drivers to carry $25,000 in bodily injury liability per person and $50,000 for all injured parties per accident. If you and the driver of your car were both seriously hurt, you can hit those limits pretty quickly. Your attorney may suggest suing the responsible driver directly, or in some cases, you may be able to seek damages from other third parties. For example, if a faulty car component contributed to the crash, you might be able to sue the manufacturer. Or if the other motorist was driving somewhere for their employer when the accident occurred, the employer may be liable for the accident.
Some tricky situations can happen for passengers, such as:
- You are friends with the driver, or maybe they’re a family member, and it appears the accident was their fault. You don’t want to sue them, but you also need to get your bills paid, and the insurance company can’t or won’t cover some or all of your costs.
- You’re a friend or family member of the driver, but you’re also a witness to the accident. You’re worried something you say will prevent your friend’s claim from being paid while allowing yours to go through.
- The driver of your car wasn’t at fault, but their injuries are more or less extensive than yours, and the other driver’s insurance policy isn’t going to pay for both or even all of one set of bills. You’re worried your claim will prevent your friend from getting more compensation, or vice versa.
- The driver of the car you were in is a friend or family member, and they are pressuring to say or not say something about the accident to help with their case. Alternatively, they may ask you not to file an insurance claim against their insurance if it appears they were at fault. They may be concerned about raising their insurance rates or using up most of the policy limit on your claim. Or they might beg you not to sue them personally for any additional costs.
These are complicated situations, and there is no one right answer to any of them. The best thing that you can do is seek legal advice before making any decisions. You should not lie as this could be considered fraud or perjury in some situations, but if you are uncomfortable talking with the insurance company for any reason, you can put off doing so until you have the chance to meet with your lawyer. Speaking to an attorney can help you understand all the options for pursuing a claim, and it is always a good idea to do so before having a conversation with an insurance adjuster. Your lawyer may be able to suggest a solution that works for everyone. Additionally, they will be looking out for your interests and may point out things you didn’t notice. For example, if the driver of your car has done something that could negatively impact your claim, they might bring that to your attention or suggest measures you can take to protect your rights.
Although it is normal to want to discuss the accident with people you’re close to, talking to the driver of your car about it, especially right after, is not the best strategy. Instead, it’s better to call a lawyer and found out who is likely to be the responsible party first. Your attorney may advise you not to discuss the accident with the driver until the case is finished. This can be hard, especially if the driver is someone you know well, but it is in your best interest to take this advice. Aside from potentially harming your case, discussing the accident or insurance claims may also lead to an argument that hurts your relationship.
What If The Insurance Company Has Already Made You An Offer?
It’s important to think carefully before accepting an insurance adjuster’s offer. We recommend speaking with an car accident attorney before you make your final decision, to ensure you receive adequate compensation. This can be difficult to determine on your own. You have to figure out what your current bills are, make sure you don’t forget anything, then think about what your future expenses might be. This isn’t always clear, especially if you’re still in treatment for your injuries. Your attorney will be able to help you estimate the value of your claim, and compare it to what the insurance carrier is offering. If their offer is not sufficient, your lawyer can negotiate with them on your behalf, so you can focus on your recovery.
What Kind Of Damages Can You Seek As A Passenger In A Car Accident?
After you and your lawyer work out who to seek compensation from, you will discuss what kind of damages to ask for. Here are some options that may apply to your case:
- Medical costs, past, present, and future. Healthcare isn’t cheap. Even if you have good insurance, you’ll likely get stuck with copays, deductibles, and things your insurer randomly decides they don’t want to pay for. Your attorney will probably ask you to put together your current bills, as well as seek a prognosis of your chances at recovery and what kind of future care you may need. In addition to your current costs, you will want to seek compensation for future care. For example, if you develop a chronic problem or pain as the result of your injuries, you may need ongoing physical therapy, pain management care, etc. Your lawyer will estimate how much money you will need to take care of these continuing expenses.
- Lost income. If you had to miss work as a result of being injured, you can ask for compensation for the time you missed.
- Pain and suffering. There’s nothing fun about being hurt, going to the hospital, having painful tests and treatment, missing out on your life while you recover, spending time doing rehabilitation for your injuries, etc. Your attorney will help you arrive at a reasonable amount of compensation for this pain and discomfort.
- Permanent disability or disfigurement, including loss of earning potential if it appears you will never be able to return to work.
- Punitive damages. These are not commonly awarded in car accident cases, but in rare cases where one driver’s conduct was considered especially hideous, a jury may award extra or “punitive” damages intended to punish the defendant.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a passenger in a car accident, don’t wait – please contact Auger and Auger for a free consultation. We’re happy to go over your case and explain your options for seeking damages. There’s no obligation. If you do choose to let us represent you, we have a zero fee guarantee – if we don’t win your case, we won’t charge you any fees. Call 855-969-5671 or contact us online today.