In the United States, more than 3 million people are injured in car accidents every year. Delaware has a share of these accidents, with more than 28,000 crashes and 8,161 people injured in 2018.
Any accident can be jarring for everyone involved, but it can be especially confusing for passengers. Often, passengers don't know their legal rights and are unsure about their insurance. After a crash, it can be difficult to know who pays for injuries as a passenger in a car accident. Passengers often wonder whose insurance should cover their injuries. Is it the insurance covering the driver of the car they were in, or the insurance of the driver of the other car? Maybe it's the passenger's insurance.
If you're a passenger in a car accident in Delaware, you will probably have more questions. But, how do you gather the information needed? What are your rights? What should you do if you're injured in a car accident as a passenger? Who pays a passenger's medical bills? This article will help you answer these questions.
Are Passengers Covered by Car Insurance?
Under Delaware's Personal Injury Protect (PIP) laws, passengers are covered by car insurance, whether or not they have it. With this system, it's clear who pays a passenger hurt in a car accident. If you were a passenger in a vehicle, the driver's insurance, regardless of whether or not they were at fault, would be required to cover up to $15,000 in PIP coverage.
Often, when a passenger’s medical expenses exceed the amount of money the driver’s plan offers, they may be able to can make up the difference under their own policy depending on the language of their policy.
For example, let's say a driver's PIP car insurance only covered the state minimum of $15,000, but the passenger's medical expenses reached $20,000 in total. If the passenger had PIP car insurance as well, whether through a parent or through their own policy, and it covered $25,000, their policy may cover the remaining $5,000. Keeping with the example, if the passenger has car insurance that only covers $15,000, then their insurance company will not be liable for that $5,000.
For passengers who don't have car insurance, they are still entitled to the $15,000 from the driver's insurance for PIP coverage, but they will have to make a claim for the extra amount of money they spent on medical bills. Due to the comparative fault system, the passenger who has exhausted their coverage options can make a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company, seeking the rest of the funds for their medical treatment and recovery, along with personal damages.
What to Know When the Driver of Vehicle You Were in Was Responsible for the Accident
If you were a passenger in a car where the driver was responsible for the accident, you'll have certain rights.
If someone is injured as a passenger in a car accident in Delaware, injured passengers will generally make their PIP claim under the car insurance policy of the car the passenger was riding in, per 21 Delaware Code Section 2118(a)(2)(c). This means that if you are riding in your friend's car, and you are hurt in a car accident, you'll make a claim under their car insurance policy to pay your medical bills.
Whether the driver is responsible or not, their PIP insurance will have to cover your medical expenses and loss of wages. If the driver has minimum insurance coverage, their insurance company will have to pay the passenger up to $15,000. As the minimum amount of coverage is fairly low, drivers are often counseled to purchase additional coverage to protect themselves from claims that come in at higher amounts.
If your bills exceed the driver's insurance and your own, you can make a claim for the full value of the excess medical bills against any at-fault driver.
What to Know When the Driver of the Other Vehicle Was Responsible for the Accident
If you're a passenger in a vehicle where your driver is not responsible for an accident, you'll still need to go through the insurance of the driver of the car you were in. This is due to the PIP system that Delaware uses, which makes the process for getting covered after an accident straightforward and simple regardless of which driver was at fault.
However, if you exceed the PIP of the driver of the car you were in and your own insurance, you can then make a claim for damages from the other driver's car insurance, which will include claims for excess medical bills and wages.
Can I Sue If I Was a Passenger in a Car Accident?
The short answer to the question is yes. You can sue if you are in a car accident as a passenger. Of course, there's more to the process you'll need to be aware of.
You can sue the party at fault. To determine the at-fault party, you'll need to start with the police report and a personal injury lawyer who can help you interpret the report. Depending on the facts of the accident, you may have the option to sue both drivers, regardless of fault.
Though some no-fault states limit and even preclude lawsuits over injuries incurred in a car crash, Delaware allows for passengers to sue.
However, you cannot sue the negligent party for damages resulting from medical bills or lost wages that you or your driver's PIP policy covers. Once the costs exceed that number, as a passenger, you can sue the negligent party, or parties, for the remainder of your damages.
As a passenger hurt in a car accident, you will have to prove the following in your car accident lawsuit:
- The fault or negligence of the other party: Some common examples of fault are when the driver was speeding, driving distracted or running a stop sign or red light.
- That their negligence caused you damages: After proving that they were at fault, you'll have to prove that their negligence resulted in the damages you sustained.
- The extent and nature of the damage, such as physical injuries or financial losses: To prove damages, you can provide medical records, documentary evidence, the testimony of those who can attest to the effect the car accident has had on your life and records of economic loss like W-2s, medical bills and pay stubs, among other documents.
Keep in mind that Delaware law allows for car accident victims to sue negligent drivers who have caused the accident. To determine how much a victim can receive from a driver, they will need to determine the driver's liability in causing the accident. If it's determined that one driver was 100% at fault for an accident, then that driver will owe the victim, or victims, 100% of the compensation.
If you're a passenger, you will likely have no liability in the car crash, so you should be entitled to 100% coverage. In other words, since you didn't do anything to cause the crash, whoever did have something to do with the crash will often be found responsible for covering costs resulting from the accident.
In case you are liable for a portion of the accident, you should be aware that since Delaware is a comparative negligence state, if you are found liable for more than 50% of the crash, you will not be eligible for coverage, per Section 10-81-8132 of Delaware state law. If you are partly at fault for the crash but not above 50% of it, you may be entitled to compensation from the primarily at-fault party.
For instance, if you're found to be 15% at fault for a crash, but another party is found to be 85% at fault, your compensation may go down by 15%. Though you should be aware of comparative negligence, if you are injured as a passenger in a car accident, you are likely to have not taken part in causing the accident. Most commonly, comparative negligence will come into play when two drivers have been involved in an accident.
How to Take Action
Once you have been in a car crash, you need to take a few steps detailed below:
- Stay at the scene of the car accident: If you're the passenger in an accident, you'll want to stay at the scene along with the two drivers involved to collect information and give a proper report to authorities.
- Check for injuries: No matter how minor the accident, check to see if you've been injured. After you check yourself, see if anyone else in your vehicle has been harmed. If someone has been harmed, call an ambulance immediately and don't attempt to move anyone who has been seriously injured.
- Report accident to authorities: You'll want to report the accident to law enforcement and give a statement on what happened. You should also request a copy of the police report for your own records and for your future law team. Besides being pragmatic, it's also Delaware's law for drivers to report accidents to the police. Along with calling the police, you should also report the accident to your and your driver's car insurance company so your claim is not denied.
- Photograph the scene: While statements are good pieces of evidence, you should also take pictures of the accident scene while you wait for the police to arrive. Take pictures of the vehicles, your injuries, relevant environmental conditions like the road or weather and any other visuals that could be useful. If you end up suing and go to trial, these photos can be huge in swaying a jury. Even if you only make a claim, pictures can be a great way to convince insurance companies to accept your claim.
- Exchange info: Even though you're the passenger, you will want to take the contact and insurance information from both drivers. If there are other witnesses such as additional passengers, you can take their contact information as well.
- Don't place or accept blame: Though this advice often applies more to the driver, you should make sure not to say anything that makes it sound like you were responsible for the accident. It's best practice not to admit guilt and not to accuse the drivers of being at fault. Instead, only speak to the police and your attorney about the details of the crash.
- Seek medical attention immediately: Even if you don't get taken to the hospital in an ambulance, you should get medical attention as soon as possible. The longer you wait, you may exacerbate an injury, and waiting can harm your case if you pursue an injury-related insurance claim or lawsuit. Right after the police leave the scene, go to an emergency care facility to get treatment and get your injuries on the record.
- Document everything: One main principle that you should take as a passenger is that you should get documentation on everything. Having more documents will help you build your case and receive your just compensation.
- Hire an experienced attorney: If you were a passenger in a car accident in Delaware, you may need to hire an attorney who knows the system and can make sure you're fully compensated for damages. Even if you need help making your PIP claim and don't need to sue, an experienced attorney can make the process stress-free for you.
Injured in a Car Accident? Reach Out to the Morris James Personal Injury Group
When you've been in a car crash, you may be immediately faced with debilitating injuries and financial hardships. You may not know where to begin getting fully compensated for all of your damages, especially if the at-fault driver's insurance company has denied your claim. The attorneys at Morris James Personal Injury Group specialize in this type of law, helping thousands who have been harmed in auto accidents, and can assist in seeing through a passenger personal injury claim in Delaware.
Contact us today to speak to a lawyer who is ready to assist with your case. All initial consultations are free, and we encourage anyone who thinks they may deserve compensation to get in touch with our attorneys.