Passenger Injury Claims in the Car Accident Context

If you've been injured in a car accident, then you may be entitled to compensation under California law if the defendant was negligent, reckless, or engaged in intentionally wrongful misconduct in causing you to suffer harm. Many car accident claims involve complex liability issues, however, such as passenger liability concerns.

Let's take a quick look at how passenger injury claims work.

Passenger Claims Against the Driver

Passengers may have a right of action against their own driver for damages in certain circumstances. All drivers have a duty of care to act so as not to expose others to an unreasonable risk of harm. Whether a driver has violated the "standard of care" is dependent on the particular circumstances surrounding the accident at-issue. Generally, the court will evaluate whether some other driver - a reasonable person - would have acted differently when put in the same or similar circumstances.

Confused? That's a lot of legalese, so we'll use an example to clarify.

Suppose that you are a bus passenger. The bus driver is speeding on a sharp turn, which causes the vehicle to flip over - as a result, you (and several other passengers) suffer severe injuries. Now, it's clear that the bus driver was negligent under the circumstances. A reasonable bus driver would not have operated the vehicle at such an excessive speed on the turn, as buses are prone to rollover accidents and require special care when making sharp turns. You would likely have an actionable claim for damages against the bus driver and their employer.

Driver Claims Against the Passenger

Drivers may also have actionable claims against their passengers for damages under certain circumstances, so long as the driver can show that the passenger's actions proximately and substantially caused them to suffer injuries. For example, if a passenger starts screaming into the driver's ears during a rainy, low-visibility night and starts punching the driver's head, this could cause the driver to accidentally swerve into a tree, or some other hazard (or even into other traffic), resulting in injuries.

Drivers are not absolute guarantors of their own safety. Though they have control over their own vehicle, the degree to which they can protect themselves is limited by the actions of their own passengers. If a passenger creates enough of a distraction, or acts directly upon the driver to wrest control away, then that might suffice to create a cause of action for damages under California law.

Insurance Interactions

Passenger injury claims can be quite confusing, particularly when it comes to insurance coverage. Depending on your auto insurance coverage, it may travel with you or cover all injuries relating to the vehicle itself. For example, an injured passenger may be covered by their own auto insurance policy which pays out even if they are injured in another person's vehicle. By contrast, a passenger who is not covered may have to bring an action against the driver to secure a payout against that driver's own insurance policy.

Insurers can make it quite difficult to recover, depending on the circumstances. For example, if a passenger may be liable (partially or fully) for the injuries suffered in an accident, then the driver may not have a simple claim for recovery - the insurer may bring an action against the defendant-passenger for damages, which may require the driver to show up to various proceedings and give testimony.

As a general rule, dealing with insurers is a minefield - you'll want to speak to an attorney who can serve as your representative in all matters having to do with your insurers (or others). This ensures that the insurer cannot use your statements against you.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Mountain View Car Accident Attorney

If you have been injured in a car accident - whether you're a passenger or a driver - in which there is a passenger-related liability issue, then you may be entitled to compensation pursuant to California law, though it's worth noting that litigation may be complicated by the relatively non-standard accident scenario. When moving forward with such litigation, it's important that you work with a team of attorneys who understand how to navigate unorthodox car accident situations and effectively advocate on your behalf.

Here at the Law Offices of Brian J. O'Grady, we have decades of experience representing injured plaintiffs in a variety of disputes, from car accidents to product defect scenarios and everything in-between. We have secured damages for many of our clients - through negotiated settlements and trial verdicts - helping them recover from the losses that were imposed upon them by the liable defendant(s).

Ready to learn more?

Call (650) 318-6131 or send us a message through our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Mountain View car accident attorney. We will evaluate your case and work with you to develop a strategy for obtaining just compensation for your injuries.