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Each and every day around the world, millions of people get into their cars for their daily commutes to work or school and it’s no surprise that accidents happen as roads become more congested and choked with traffic. Car accidents, in turn, injure and kill thousands of people and often result in legal actions, both civil and criminal depending on the circumstances. For the most part, those proceedings involve drivers or operators of vehicles suing each other for damage to their vehicles and any resulting injuries from the crash. But what about passengers who get hurt in car crashes? Can you sue if you’re a passenger in a car accident?

While different countries and regions may have their own vehicle insurance regimes, generally people who are injured as passengers in car accidents have a few options to receive compensation for any injuries they suffered. Firstly, regardless of whose fault the accident may have been, passengers hurt in car crashes are entitled to make a comprehensive auto insurance claim as long as the vehicle they were in was properly registered and the driver was properly licensed.

But they’re also allowed to go after the at-fault driver in court if they were injured in the accident. This means they can file a tort claim lawsuit against the driver of the other car or the driver of the car in which they were riding depending on who is found to have caused the crash.

Most personal injury lawyers and personal injury law firms will tell people to first see a doctor after the crash. Getting medical attention for an injury is an obvious step, but the documentation of the injuries is an important factor for those hurt in car accidents for use in future potential litigation.

Can you sue if you’re a passenger in a crash?

Taking care of your cash flow after a crash

While your physical health is obviously the top-of-mind concern after getting injured in a car crash, coming in a close second is likely your financial well-being especially if you’re sidelined by the accident and forced to go off work. The documentation of your injuries by doctors and other health professionals will not only be crucial to your insurance claim, but also for use in court if you end up suing the driver who caused the crash.

Once you’ve dealt with doctors and hospitals and physiotherapists, your next visit should likely be to a personal injury lawyer who specializes in car accident litigation. There is certainly no shortage of personal injury lawyers in North America, and many offer free consultations or free case reviews to accident victims seeking compensation from other drivers and insurance companies.

Lots of personal injury lawyers go into private practice after having worked for insurance companies as well, so they’re usually well-versed in the process from both sides of the proverbial fence. Passenger injury claims are somewhat different than those made by drivers because they don’t have their own insurance. Hopefully, the accident didn’t involve an uninsured motorist, which muddies the waters significantly in terms of seeking full compensation for your injuries.

Many people don’t have enough insurance

Many insurance companies offer underinsured or uninsured motorist protection on their auto insurance policies, but the increase in premiums causes many people to opt for cheaper policies that can come back to bite them after an accident. Depending on the insurance regime where you live, the problem with being involved with an underinsured motorist is that their policy is inadequate to cover the injuries and damages suffered in a crash. For example, if your personal injury lawsuit as a passenger goes to trial and a jury awards you $2 million, but the defendant’s policy only covers $1 million, that leaves the at-fault driver to make up the difference. While a court may order them to pay you the shortfall left by their insurance policy, they may simply not have the money to hand over. You may be able to garnish their wages to get paid out, but litigation and car accident lawsuits are often a long and costly process.

Unfortunately for those injured in crashes, whether they’re a passenger or driver, the time of greatest need is likely the short-term after the accident. For someone who develops whiplash and can’t go to work and earn income, the damages award from a lawsuit years later is little help to them in the days, weeks, and months after a crash.

Many people don’t have enough insurance

Medical bills and expenses, including those for treatment by specialists and any prescription drugs you may be issued, will likely be taken care of by the insurance company after a crash. For passengers, there’s obviously no need to worry about whether they’ll be found at fault since they’re virtually always injured innocent parties.

As such, they have legal rights and legal options to seek compensation for their injuries. In car accident cases that involve both drivers and injured passengers, courts award damages based on not only pain and suffering, and loss of housekeeping capacity suffered by the injured parties, but also for any income you may have lost due to the accident both now and in the future.

You might have to sue your friend or family member

Fundamental to your tort claim as a passenger injured in a crash is the idea that a driver’s negligence caused the accident and the resulting injuries you’re now suffering. But what becomes problematic for many injured passengers is when the driver of the vehicle they were riding in is found at fault. Perhaps it was driven by a member of your family or a long-time friend who you’d never think to sue and take to court.

However, this may be your only option to receive the proper amount of compensation after the accident. Ideally, the person you were driving with has a third-party liability provision in their insurance policy, so you don’t necessarily have to worry about suing and bankrupting them with a big damages award.

Speeding or texting and driving

Although it will likely lead to an awkward family Christmas dinner, suing a family member who caused an accident in which you were injured may be your only option. While it may have been a simple driver error that caused the crash, it’s also possible that the driver was not operating the vehicle properly by speeding or texting and driving, for example. Or, in worse cases, they may have been drinking and doing drugs, or simply may have been tired and suffering from fatigue that numbed their reaction time.

Regardless of the circumstances, accident victims who are injured in car crashes are undoubtedly entitled to compensation, be it from an insurance company or the driver who’s found to be at fault. Some places that are under no-fault insurance systems, however, limit peoples’ options to seek compensation from the courts and often involve caps on how much benefit money you may receive.

Suing as a car crash passenger

No-fault insurance regimes may be cheaper, faster, and more efficient in getting accident victims the treatment and funds they need right after an accident.

However, the caps on damages and limits on who can and can’t file lawsuits under these systems can mean that injured parties are given the bare minimum instead of being fairly compensated for the upheaval a car crash can cause in one’s life. Being injured in a car crash as a passenger can put people in very tough spots, especially if they’re in the car that caused it. Having to sue someone who was driving you around might seem like a terrible option in cases of friends and family, but unfortunately, that might be the only way to get properly compensated for your injuries.

Alistair Vigier is the CEO of Clearway Law, a website that allows people to leave reviews for their attorneys. Soon the public will be able to ask free legal questions in the Q+A section, which will be answered by attorneys.