As a passenger in a vehicle, you are just as likely to suffer injuries in a car accident as the driver. Sometimes, the driver does not suffer injuries, but the passenger does. Injuries range from minor cuts and bruises to catastrophic injuries or even death. After a car accident, a vehicle passenger can recover damages just as a driver can. Indeed, the passenger sometimes has more options to collect compensation for their injuries and other damages.
Auto Insurance Covers Passengers
Florida is a no-fault state, which means that passengers have several ways to recover damages after a motor vehicle accident. Every driver must have a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP). This requirement is the no-fault coverage part of the policy. It covers the policyholder, relatives living in the same home, and even yourself if you were hit by a car while walking or bicycling. It does not matter who was at fault for the accident-PIP covers you. Florida policies also cover bodily injury, which encompasses injuries caused by the driver. In some cases, bodily injury insurance will cover costs over and above the amount the personal injury protection portion covers.
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Can a Passenger File a Claim Against the Driver?
Vehicle passengers can file a claim against the driver that caused the wreck. If the host driver was at fault, a passenger could file a claim against the host driver’s insurance. Otherwise, the passenger would file a claim against the other driver’s insurance.
If the host driver is a relative, regardless of fault, the passenger can file a claim against the host driver but cannot sue the host driver unless they were at fault.
A passenger can only sue the host driver when the driver is not a relative or someone living at the same address.
If you have a vehicle and a PIP insurance policy, you can file a claim against your insurance. If your insurance won’t cover your allowable damages, you can “stack” coverages by filing a claim for the additional allowable damages against the driver’s insurance.
For example, if your medical expenses are $50,000 but you only have $10,000 in coverage, you can recover additional compensation from the driver’s insurance up to their coverage limit. If the coverage limit for the driver is $20,000, you will have a total of $30,000. If it is $50,000, you would have access to $70,000 but can only collect what you win.
Does Insurance Cover All Damages?
No-fault insurance does not cover all damages for a passenger accident victim, even if the victim is entitled to those damages. For example, no-fault personal injury protection covers medical care, but it does not cover lost wages, pain and suffering damages, and other less direct damages.
Damages a Passenger Could Sustain in a Car Accident
A passenger can suffer injuries that range from minor to catastrophic or even death. Because of Florida’s complex no-fault laws, the passenger should always contact a car accident lawyer to ensure they obtain the compensation they deserve.
Injuries might include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes, and scratches.
- Road rash.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and other similar injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Thermal and chemical burns.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
Covered injuries also include secondary injuries, such as infections. A person has a higher risk of suffering infection if they have an underlying condition such as diabetes or if they are immunocompromised.
Additionally, if the car accident injuries exacerbate an existing injury or condition, the at-fault driver is responsible for the resulting medical care and pain and suffering.
The Claim Process for a Passenger
Filing a claim or a lawsuit as a passenger is similar to filing as a driver. However, sometimes you can recover from multiple parties, complicating the claim process.
If possible, gather evidence just as you would if you were the driver:
- Call first responders and check on others involved if the drivers have not done so.
- Take photos of the accident scene from all angles. Include any road and property damage, including yards, trees, mailboxes, utility poles, and fences.
- Obtain contact, insurance, and registration information from all drivers involved. Take clear photos of licenses, insurance cards, registration documents, and license plates.
- Obtain contact information from witnesses. You can also ask witnesses what they saw.
- Allow emergency medical technicians to check you over, even if you believe your injuries are minor.
- Give the police your statement. Make sure the police list you as a passenger on the police report.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible after the wreck, even if you believe your injuries are mild.
- Contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Do not wait to obtain medical help or to contact an attorney. Insurance companies will not hesitate to dispute your injuries and other damages. Medical documentation with legal representation protects your rights.
How Does No-Fault Work for a Passenger Claim?
All insurance companies must offer personal injury protection with their policies. The protection covers injuries and other damages sustained by the named insured, any relatives who live in the same home as the insured, people driving the insured’s car if they have permission, passengers in the insured’s car, and other people struck by the insured’s car.
Personal injury protection covers 80 percent of medical expenses plus 60 percent of lost wages, regardless of who caused or contributed to the accident. We recommend that you file a claim as soon as possible; insurance companies could give you as little as 14 days to file. If you do not want to speak to the insurance company, retain a car accident lawyer as soon as possible so they can file the claim for you.
Your no-fault insurance covers you, and in some cases, the driver’s no-fault insurance will cover you too. However, many people take out the minimum coverage of $10,000. If your injuries and lost wages are more than $10,000, you can recover additional compensation from the driver’s insurance.
If you sustain injuries and other damages over $10,000, your injuries are severe enough to collect non-economic damages, and you have only the minimum coverage, you may file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver for anything above the $10,000.
Does a Passenger Have to Go to Court?
Not necessarily. If the passenger can recover enough compensation for damages through their insurance company and the at-fault driver’s insurance company via a settlement, they do not have to go to court.
If the passenger cannot recover enough-let’s say the injuries are catastrophic, and the injured passenger attempts to settle with the at-fault driver’s insurance, but the insurance company denies the claim or refuses to come to a fair and reasonable settlement, the passenger can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Because the no-fault laws are complex, and recovery may rest with multiple defendants, passengers should always retain a car accident lawyer to assist with their claims.
Recovering Damages After a Car Accident
If you use only the no-fault insurance, you can only recover medical expenses and lost wages. If you have additional damages, you can settle with the insurance company. If that doesn’t work, you might need to litigate.
In some circumstances, you may recover compensatory damages and punitive damages. The court orders compensatory damages, which encompass economic and non-economic damages, to make you whole again.
#1. Economic Damages
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a direct monetary value. They include:
#2. Medical Expenses
Depending on the severity of your injuries, you could recover from your injuries within weeks, or you may end up with long-term or permanent disabilities. If you suffer catastrophic injuries, you may incur medical expenses for the rest of your life.
Medical expenses include:
- Doctors’ appointments.
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
- Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
- Ambulatory aids, including canes, walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs.
- Physical therapy.
- Occupational therapy.
- Psychological therapy.
- Cognitive therapy.
- Hand controls for your vehicle.
- Medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks, shower chairs, walkers, and wheelchairs.
- Updates to your home, including handrails, grab bars, widened doorways, and wheelchair ramps.
After suffering injuries in a car accident, you may be unable to work for a significant period of time. In this case, you can collect lost wages from an insurance policy’s personal injury protection. However, if your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities, you may also recover compensation for loss of future earning capacity. You will probably need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance or sue the at-fault driver to recover for loss of earning capacity.
If your damages include loss of earning capacity, you can collect compensation from the time of the accident until your expected retirement date. This amount can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on your current salary and age.
#4. Personal Property
The insurance company should cover compensation to replace or repair your personal property, including your vehicle. If you had anything of value in the vehicle, the insurance company should also cover repairing or replacing those items, including cell phones and computers.
#5. Death-Related Expenses
If you lost a loved one in a car accident, and your loved one was a passenger in the vehicle, you could recover death-related expenses, including funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court expenses, and the cost of a probate attorney.
#6. Non-Economic Damages
General, or non-economic, damages do not have a direct monetary value. If you suffered injuries as a passenger in a car accident, you could recover non-economic damages. However, the no-fault coverage on your policy does not cover non-economic damages, so you must file a claim against the defendant.
You can also file a lawsuit against the defendant to recover non-economic damages, including:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you must make life-long changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy spending time with your family or attending family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as your hand or leg.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight or bladder.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Inconvenience if you must hire someone to do your former chores, such as house cleaning, lawn maintenance, grocery shopping, and home repair and maintenance.
- Excessive scarring or disfigurement.
#7. Punitive Damages
The court only orders the defendant to pay punitive damages if they were grossly negligent or their actions were intentional. The court uses punitive damages as a punishment-this money is not to make you whole again.
It takes extra steps and time to obtain punitive damages, but the extra effort is worth the wait for those who suffered severe or catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one.
If you lost a loved one because they were a passenger in a car accident, and the at-fault driver was not a relative, the driver may owe you punitive damages if you can prove they took grossly negligent or intentional actions.
If you suffered injuries as a passenger in a car accident or lost a loved one who was a passenger in a car accident, contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible to get the support and compensation you deserve.