You weren’t driving the car when the accident happened. Maybe you were riding in the front passenger seat or somewhere in the back, and now you’re dealing with the aftermath of a crash that you played no role in. So what are your rights in this situation? Can a passenger claim compensation in a car accident?
The easy answer to this question is “Yes.” Under the right circumstances, a passenger who was injured in a crash has the right to claim compensation. The more complicated answer, however, is “Maybe.” Let’s explore the situations in which a passenger is entitled to compensation and when they may be unable to do so.
Pennsylvania’s Car Insurance Requirements
Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that adheres to the concept of “no-fault” for car accidents. So what does this mean?
After a crash, every party must first file a claim with their own insurance company, regardless of who was at fault. Compensation for certain damages is covered by the following minimum requirements for personal injury protection (PIP) coverage:
- $15,000 for bodily injury per person
- $30,000 for bodily injury per accident
- $5,000 for property damage per accident
Minimum PIP coverage requirements are frequently referred to as the 15/30/5 rule.
A Passenger’s Right To Claim Compensation After a Car Accident
But as a passenger, are you expected to turn to your own insurance coverage? And what happens if you don’t have auto insurance?
PIP insurance generally covers everyone in the vehicle, including the driver’s passengers. You don’t need to have your own insurance coverage to ride in a car, as that’s the responsibility of the driver or the vehicle owner (if different). This means that if you were injured while riding as a passenger, you can file a claim for compensation with the driver’s or vehicle owner’s insurance company.
However, complications can arise if your financial losses related to bodily injury exceed the driver’s PIP coverage, you’ve missed work (and paychecks) due to your injury, or you’re dealing with extensive mental anguish. In situations like this, you can then turn to the at-fault driver’s insurance company for additional compensation.
A personal injury claim filed with the other driver’s insurance company can help you secure compensation for a broader range of damages.
What if the Passenger Was Riding in the At-Fault Vehicle?
As a passenger, you may still be entitled to compensation if you were riding in the same vehicle as the at-fault driver. The process for recovering compensation should be largely the same as if you were riding in the car that was hit. Your first option for financial recovery would be under the driver’s PIP coverage, and if that proved to be insufficient, the next step would be to file a personal injury claim with their auto insurer.
Keep in mind that your own actions could possibly limit or even eliminate your right to compensation for your car accident injuries and losses. For example, a passenger who knowingly gets into a vehicle with a driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs may be disqualified from recovering any type of compensation through a civil claim.
Types of Compensation Passengers Can Recover After a Motor Vehicle Accident
Both passengers and drivers are entitled to the same types of compensation after a car accident. Compensation generally falls into one of two categories: economic and non-economic damages. In rare cases, a third type, called punitive or exemplary damages, are awarded. Here’s a breakdown of what each type covers:
In personal injury claims, economic damages are your verifiable and calculable financial losses. These may include:
- Lost wages or reduced earning capacity
- Past, current, and future medical bills and expenses
- Value of personal items damaged in the wreck
- Domestic services
Never throw away or discard a bill, invoice, or receipt from any cost associated with your accident or injuries. Thorough documentation is key to correctly calculating the totality of your financial losses, and the more information you can give your lawyer, the better.
These are your non-financial losses, which cover all of the non-monetary ways your life has been affected by a car accident. As a passenger, you might be entitled to non-economic damages for some of the following:
- Mental anguish
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Physical pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment in life
Proving non-economic losses is much more challenging than proving your financial losses. Many of the damages that fall under the category of non-economic can be considered subjective and up for debate, giving the insurance company plenty of room to push back on a claim. Without the right legal representation, you face the risk of being bullied into accepting a settlement that fails to fully address your losses.
Only a small number of car accident claims ever go to court, and of those, an even smaller percentage ever involves the awarding of punitive damages. However, just because the likelihood of securing punitive damages is rare does not mean that it is not worthwhile to understand how they work.
In cases involving gross negligence or the willful and wanton misconduct of the at-fault driver, a judge or jury may choose to award punitive damages. These are not intended to compensate the victim for any type of loss. Instead, they are used as a financial punishment to make an example of the liable party, discouraging them and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future. For this reason, they are also known as exemplary damages.
I Don’t Know What Insurance Company To File With—What Should I Do?
Even a minor car accident can be a traumatizing event, leaving victims with long-lasting injuries, steep financial losses, and ongoing physical and mental pain. As a passenger, you have the right to take actionable steps to address these and other losses associated with your accident.
To learn more about how a passenger can claim compensation in a car accident or how an attorney can support your case, contact Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco online or by phone. We’ll schedule you for a completely free case evaluation at a time and date that works best for you.