Car accidents are, unfortunately, more common than people might consider. They often come out of nowhere and can significantly affect the rest of you or your loved ones’ lives. In 2020, there were 98,778 car crashes in the state of Arizona, with over 9,700 passengers injured. Many people are familiar with the steps one takes as the driver after a car accident, but may never have considered what a collision means for an injured passenger.
A passenger may fear they will not be compensated for medical care or other related expenses, may be nervous about filing a lawsuit if one of the drivers is a close friend or family member, and may not be sure who exactly is liable for insurance payments. Here’s everything you need to know if you are a passenger injured in a Phoenix car accident.
When can an injured passenger seek damages after an accident in Phoenix?
If you’re injured as a passenger in a car accident, your next steps probably will not look much different to the drivers’. You’ll work with insurance companies and law enforcement to create a full account of the incident and blame will likely be placed on one or both of the drivers, whose insurance will then be responsible for paying for any medical care or damages from the accident. Though rare, a passenger can be held liable for a car accident if he or she in some way caused the driver to lose control, such as through distracting the driver, pulling on the steering wheel, etc.
While passengers are typically owed compensation for medical bills and other damages, there are certain circumstances when they may be denied payment for medical care due to a car accident:
- A passenger can be denied payment by an insurance company if it can be proven that the passenger knew they were putting themselves in danger in the vehicle – called “assumption of risk.” An insurance company can deny payment due to assumption of risk in circumstances like choosing to drive with a drunk driver, not wearing a seatbelt, or not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle.
- If the passenger is related to and lives with the driver who is held liable, their insurance may deny payment as the passenger would be considered insured under the same policy and not able to make a liability claim.
So, what exactly happens after a car accident?
If you’re involved in a car accident as a passenger, you may not know what you should do next. If you are physically able to do so after the accident, you should gather contact and insurance information from both drivers and speak with law enforcement who will be gathering as much information as possible. You should always seek medical attention after an accident, as stress and adrenaline can often mask pain; if you seek treatment later, insurance companies may not connect your medical care to the accident and may not pay for it.
As a passenger, you will likely file a lawsuit against both drivers’ insurance companies. It is important to remember that the claim is to the insurance company, so that company, not the individual, is almost always the one paying the damages. Your lawsuit(s) can seek monetary compensation for medical care, any lost wages that might occur due to an injury, other expenses, and even pain and suffering.
Because Arizona is a comparative negligence state, a jury will examine the case and determine “how much” each driver was at fault in the accident. In a comparative negligence state, each driver can be considered somewhat at fault for the accident, and the amount of fault will affect how much money each of their insurance companies will owe.
The jury will need to determine the dollar amount due for medical care and damages to the injured parties, and the percentage each driver was at fault; the monetary payout from each insurance company is then adjusted based on the at fault percentage. These figures will be used by both the insurance claims adjuster and by the judge and jury should the case make it to trial.
If necessary, an injured passenger can use their own medical insurance to pay for their medical care. Your health insurance company may seek payback once car insurance coverage claims have been paid. Additionally, car insurance policies might offer “med pay,” which covers only medical bills and can be paid out faster than other claims. However, med pay only covers medical bills, so for compensation for things like lost wages or other damages, you will still have to seek other reimbursement and the insurance company will subtract anything already paid for medical bills.
Seek legal help after a Phoenix car accident
Clearly, there are several moving parts and balls in the air after a car accident. Working with insurance companies and determining who is at fault can get extremely complicated, and if a case goes to trial it can take months before decisions have been made and money can be paid. Accidents will require evidence and research in order to determine the faults of each driver and the total monetary compensation owed, and insurance companies will always fight to pay as little compensation as possible – up to and including denying payment to a passenger by claiming assumption of risk.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to navigate complicated laws and uncooperative insurance companies, giving you peace of mind that your final compensation package will be what you deserve. If you were injured in a car accident in Phoenix, call Plattner Verderame, PC at 602-266-2002, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation today. We have offices in Phoenix and Tempe.
I have been active in leadership in the Arizona Association for Justice (lawyers who represent injured folks, and formerly known as the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association) since 1985. I served as President in 1991. I was an active participant in battles to protect the Arizona Constitution from the insurance industry and big business interests in 1986, 1990 and 1994.
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