Drivers are not the only individuals entitled to recover for their injuries after a car accident. Every individual injured in an accident caused by another person’s negligence may be entitled to recover, and this includes passengers. Passengers may find themselves more injured than the driver, depending on where the impact occurred on the vehicle.
Recovery for passengers can be complicated, especially if they are dealing with multiple insurance companies. Read on to better understand recovery for passengers in a car accident, including the risks and what damages may be recoverable.
How Often Are Passengers Injured?
Passengers in a vehicle suffer the same risks of accident and injury as drivers. Car accidents are unpredictable, and anyone traveling in the vehicle is open to the same hazards. There are an average of six million car accidents in the United States every year, resulting in more than three million injuries.
Studies have found that front-seat passengers are at an increased risk of injury relative to drivers in road traffic accidents, and the highest mortality rate is found in front seat passengers. Rear seat passengers are at greater risk for traumatic brain injuries, and both front and rear-seat passengers are more likely than drivers to suffer from abdominal injuries.
Children are particularly vulnerable passengers in any car accident. Car crashes cause one out of every four unintentional deaths of children. Children in vehicles make up 50 percent of all child road traffic deaths in high-income countries, which includes the U.S., including more than 650 children aged 12 and younger in the United States.
Every hour in the U.S., nearly 150 children between the ages of 0 and 19 are treated for motor vehicle crash injuries in emergency departments, and crash-related injuries are the leading cause of injury for children ages five to 19. The primary risk factor for child death and injury is the failure to use a restraint, or improper use of a child restraint system.
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Suffering From Injuries
The severity of passenger injuries is wide-ranging and depends on where the impact occurs, whether the passenger was wearing a seatbelt, if an airbag deployed, and other factors.
Common injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury: Car passengers are at risk of striking their heads, including on the dashboard, a window, or the seat in front of them if sitting in the rear of the vehicle. A blow to the head can cause a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Victims of a TBI suffer a range of symptoms including physical and cognitive disabilities. If the injury is severe, the victim could be in a coma or vegetative state or suffer from brain death.
- Head injuries: A TBI is not the only possible injury after a blow to the head. Other head injuries include concussions, lacerations, and skull fractures.
- Spinal injuries: The spinal cord allows the brain to communicate with the body, making any injury particularly concerning. Spinal cord injuries present a range of effects including numbness, muscle weakness, change to senses, loss of bodily control, and paralysis.
- Back and neck injuries: The body can get aggressively jerked around due to the force of impact in a car accident. Whiplash is a neck injury caused by rapid back-and-forth movement and results in a wide range of symptoms including severe pain and a limited range of motion. Neck and back injuries often cause a lifetime of pain for the victim and require continuous treatment such as physical therapy.
- Internal damage: Internal damage is often the result of a blow to the trunk of the body. In addition to internal bleeding, such a blow can injure organs including the liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs. Often the symptoms of internal damage show up after the accident. Delay in treatment can have serious consequences.
- Broken bones: A passenger might brace against the impact of an accident by throwing out their arms, resulting in a broken bone or fracture. Broken bones are also a common result if the passenger is thrown about or out of the vehicle. While most broken bones mend over time, a severe break can require surgery or physical therapy.
- Facial injuries: Passengers might suffer from broken facial bones or cracked or chipped teeth. Victims often require facial reconstruction surgery or dental surgery.
- Cuts and bruises: In addition to the more severe injuries above, a car accident victim commonly discovers a variety of aches and pains in the form of cuts, bruises, and sprains. Normally not life-threatening, these injuries still limit the victim’s ability to return to normal life.
As you come to terms with your injuries, your thoughts might turn to how to deal with the overwhelming financial burdens and other difficulties associated with the injuries.
Building the Case for Recovery
If another party was responsible for the accident, they can also be held responsible for your injuries. You will need to determine who was at fault and then compile evidence to support your case.
Who Is Responsible?
If a party acted negligently in a way that caused the accident and your injuries, they are at fault. When the passenger is a victim, it is very uncommon that they are at fault. The passenger is not behind the wheel, making it difficult for them to take any action that would cause an accident.
Common responsible parties are:
- The driver of the vehicle: The driver of the vehicle in which the passenger is traveling can be held responsible if they acted negligently, causing the accident. A driver is negligent if they fail to exercise reasonable care, including violation of traffic laws or regulations. Common violations include distracted driving, speeding, and failing to heed a traffic sign or light. This can be a delicate situation because the driver of the vehicle is often someone with whom the victim has a personal relationship.
- The driver of a different vehicle: If the driver of the other vehicle committed a negligent act, causing the accident, they can be held responsible for resulting injuries.
- The rideshare driver: If the responsible driver was driving a rideshare vehicle, responsibility is more complicated. If the rideshare driver was on the clock, the insurance of the rideshare company would kick in. If the driver was not actively working, their own insurance would cover the accident.
- The employer: If the responsible driver was acting in the course of their employment at the time of the accident (such as a delivery driver), the employer could be held responsible for the resulting injuries. If the driver is an independent contractor or was not performing job duties at the time of the accident, they would remain personally responsible.
- The vehicle manufacturer: If the accident was caused because of a malfunction in the vehicle, you would need to investigate whether the manufacturer failed to sufficiently test the equipment, or produced a faulty vehicle. A malfunction of a safety feature can also cause injuries. Imagine a failure of the airbag to deploy. This could cause severe injuries when the injuries might only have been minor if the airbag and functioned properly.
Once you determine which party is responsible, you are likely to find yourself interacting with the party’s insurance company. Because you were not a driver, you will need to file a third-party injury claim with the insurance company for the responsible party. Understanding the limitations of the insurance coverage and navigating these complicated conversations can be a frustrating experience, especially because many insurance companies have tactics to avoid payment whenever possible.
Work with your attorney to prepare a strong case and gather supporting evidence as you prepare for these conversations.
The more evidence to support your case, the more difficult it would be for the insurance company and defendant to deny your claim. For this reason, you need to take an active role in documenting the accident and preserving evidence. As a first step, be sure that a police report is secured after the accident. The police report will include pictures of the accident scene, witness statements, witness contact information, and any violations of traffic laws.
The drivers might avoid securing a police report if both believe they have acted with fault. They may agree to handle their claims outside the insurance company to avoid an increase in their rates. Make sure you advocate for yourself as these decisions are made, and that you secure both parties’ insurance information so that you can pursue a recovery.
The need to document evidence does not end when you leave the scene of the accident. Be sure to keep all documentation related to the accident and your medical care. These documents will be important if the insurance company or defendant challenges the costs associated with your medical expenses.
Preparing a Damages Claim
Once you have determined which party is at fault and ensured you have a strong case, you will need to prepare a damages demand. Work with your lawyer to prepare a thorough assessment of all the injuries you have suffered. This number will be used by the jury when awarding damages if your case proceeds to trial. Additionally, the insurance company and defendant are likely to make one or more settlement offers. Having a realistic understanding of the extent of your damages can assist you in evaluating any settlement offer.
Your damages demand should include all injuries you have suffered, which often extend beyond medical expenses.
Your attorney would work with you to consider all possible damages, including:
- Medical costs: Include all costs associated with your medical care, including an estimate of future medical costs. Your lawyer can involve medical experts as needed to assist in assessing future medical costs.
- Lost income: Car accident victims are often forced to miss work or work a reduced schedule, resulting in lost or reduced wages. The defendant can be held responsible for these losses. If your injuries will limit your ability to work in the future, an estimate of this economic impact should also be included in the damages assessment. An economic expert might be necessary to prepare an estimate of future lost earnings or future lost earning potential.
- Property damage: If the passenger had any personal property in the vehicle at the time of the accident, such as electronic devices, that was damaged or destroyed. The defendant could be required to bear the cost of repair or replacement.
- Emotional distress: Many car accident victims suffer from emotional trauma after the event, including depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Be sure to include damages for any emotional trauma in your demand.
- Loss of enjoyment: If your injuries leave you with permanent limitations, you may never return to activities that were previously an important part of your life. Work with your attorney to include appropriate compensation for this loss of enjoyment.
- Exemplary/punitive damages: If the defendant acted egregiously, punitive damages might be available. These damages serve to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff for injury. The requirements for recovering punitive damages vary from state-to-state.
You deserve to recover fully for your injuries, but the actions you take could limit your ability to recover compensation. Discuss any steps you need to take with your lawyer so you do not put your recovery at risk. This includes limiting any comments about the accident or your injuries to the press or on social media.
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Contact an Attorney Today
One of the most important steps you can take to prepare your case for recovery is to work with an experienced attorney who aims to maximize their client’s compensation so they can achieve the justice they deserve. Anyone who is unfairly injured should stand equal ground with insurance companies and the legal armies they employ. Search for an attorney with legal experience paired with sharply effective strategies developed throughout their experience advocating on behalf of their clients.
Contact an attorney today for advice about your legal options moving forward.