What Rights Do I Have as a Passenger Injured in an Auto Accident?
Passengers are often in auto accidents. In fact, the passenger(s) often suffer far greater injuries than either driver. The question that comes up for these injured passengers, “Is what recourse do I have for my injuries?”
Like most auto accidents, the auto insurance issues are the key to the answer. It is important to understand and to identify all available insurance coverage to increase your chances of full recovery of damages for your injuries and other losses.
Numerous Possible Coverage Options for an Injured Passenger
Fortunately for injured passengers, there are a number of possible avenues for recovery of damages for the injuries and losses suffered as a passenger in a car accident. The possible sources of recovery bring up several issues: negligence, comparative negligence, liability insurance and underinsured insurance coverage.
Negligence and Comparative Negligence: One or Both Drivers May be Liable
First, as with all personal injury claims, a passenger may bring claims against the negligent driver. This could be either the driver of the other car or the car in which the passenger was riding. Both claims would be made against the negligent driver’s auto insurance liability coverage.
In many cases, both drivers were negligent. New Mexico is a comparative negligence state. This means that the negligence and consequent liability may be apportioned between the two drivers. In short, the passenger can file claims against both drivers under their liability policies.
Apportionment of liability can be very important where both parties have low liability coverage limits. In cases of serious injuries, no matter how the negligence and liability is apportioned between the two drivers, the injured passenger will often be able to get the policy limits on both drivers’ liability insurance.
Uninsured or Underinsured Coverage
The issue of underinsured, or worse yet uninsured, drivers brings us to the next point. Uninsured/underinsured coverage may come into play in a number of manners with a passenger injury case.
The Host Driver‘s Uninsured/Undersinsured Coverage
First, in case the driver of the car in which the person was a passenger was not at fault or only partially at fault, the passenger may be able to obtain recovery under that driver’s uninsured/underinsured coverage. The uninsured/underinsured coverage would apply only to portion of the damages caused by the negligence of the other party.
As a result, if the driver of the car in which the injured person was a passenger was largely or totally at fault, then the only recovery would be against that driver’s liability policy. However, if the other driver was entirely or mostly at fault, then there might be coverage under the car in which the passenger was driving. Keep in mind that with comparative negligence, there is sliding scale of possible coverages from one policy and driver to the next.
The Passenger‘s Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage
Finally, in the event that the two drivers together have insufficient coverage to cover the passenger’s injuries, the passenger would be able to make claims against his or her own uninsured and underinsured coverage. This means that the passenger would make a claim against his or her own coverage just as in any other uninsured or underinsured coverage situation.
This is extremely important since New Mexico has a very high rate or uninsured and underinsured drivers. Chances are one or both drivers will be underinsured. Hopefully, the passenger is not uninsured, and hopefully the passenger did not waive underinsured coverage.
Stacking of Uninsured/Undersinsured Coverage
In the event that the passenger has underinsured coverage, he or she will also have the benefit of stacking. New Mexico allows stacking of underinsured coverage unlike some other states. This means that the passenger can stack underinsured coverage across on automobiles in the household. For example, if the passenger has 3 cars with $25,000 underinsured coverage on each, then the total available underinsured coverage is $75,000.
Passengers Have Many Rights
As is apparent from the above discussion, passengers injured in an auto accident have many rights and possible paths to recovery of their damages. In fact, as a passenger, you may have insurance coverage options not available to the injured driver. Where the driver would be entitled to draw upon only those auto insurance policies involved in the accident, the passenger could call upon his or her own insurance even though his or her car was not involved.
Important to Identify All Possible Coverage
Recovery in an auto accident is typically determined entirely by available insurance coverage. This means that it is very important to identify all available insurance coverage.
An attorney experienced with auto accidents and insurance coverage issues related to them will be able to do this for you.