Being a passenger during a car accident can be both confusing and scary—especially if you are injured. You may not know intuitively which insurance covers you: the other driver's, your driver, or possibly your insurance. The matter may be even more complicated if a friend or loved one was driving the car. In this article we break down what your options are as a passenger in an accident, and the various policies through which you can file a claim.
Filing a Claim with the Other Driver's Insurer
If you are injured in an accident as a passenger, your first option would be to sue against the other driver’s insurance policy. In about every state, drivers are required to carry a minimum amount of car insurance. Within that required amount are two coverages called Bodily Injury Liability (BI) and Property Damage Liability (PD). BI insurance deals with injuries, and pays up to a limit per person, and a limit for the entire accident. For example, the minimum drivers should have for car insurance in New York is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.
There are admittedly a few obstacles you may face with this option. The first is whether the other driver's insurance limits will be enough to cover your expenses. If you are the only one injured in the accident, then perhaps it will be enough. If there are multiple people injured however, that limit has to be divided up between everyone. The more people, the less likely your damages are fully covered. The odds are worse if the other driver only has state minimum levels (which is even worse in states like California and Arizona where the minimum is only $30,000 per accident). If your medical bills total $60,000, and others are injured as well, you may only see a few thousand dollars worth of repayment from a driver with low limits. Your claim can even be denied if benefits are exhausted.
Furthermore, going through another driver’s insurance can be a hassle. In many accidents “fault”, or the amount someone is responsible for the accident, is not always clear. If that is the case in your accident, there may be a long-drawn out process of trying to prove who was the more guilty party. If the accident involved multiple cars and multiple drivers, it could take months to sort it all out. If things are particularly unclear, you may have to bring on a lawyer, as well as possibly settling for an amount less than what you wanted.
Filing a Claim through Your Friend or Car Driver's Policy
You can also recover through the policy of the person driving the car you were a passenger in. The simplest way is through their personal injury protection (PIP) or Medical Payments (MedPay). PIP and MedPay both cover all passengers in the car, and are considered “first-party benefits" insurance. What this means is that your driver can file a claim, and regardless of who was at-fault in the accident, will receive a pay out for medical expenses. As a passenger, this is your best option. You will see swift reimbursment for your costs, and it won't cause your rates to go up. It's not to say it doesn't have its disadvantages though. PIP is only mandatory in 12 states, while MedPay is not mandatory anywhere. If you are not from one of the PIP-required states, there is a good chance your driver will not have the coverage. As well, even if they do have it, it may still not be enough to cover your expenses.
If your driver does not have PIP or MedPay, you could also file through their BI insurance. If the driver is a friend, or a "non-immediate family" loved one, you may be hesitant to pursue this option, which is understandable. What you should know however is that you are not technically going after them or their money, but rather their insurance company. You file a claim against their policy seeking a certain amount of compensation for your damages, which is handled by the insurance company. Your friend will have nothing to do with the proceedings from that point on.
If you are still uncomfortable with filing through your friend's insurance, you can opt to only do so after exhausting the other driver’s limits. If for example your medical costs are $60,000, and you get $45,000 from the other driver, you can make up the difference through your friend's insurance. In either case you will still need to deal with another insurance company, and justify your claim. The process, regardless if its your friend’s or other driver’s insurance, will take some time.
Filing a Claim Through Your Own Car Insurance
Filing through your own insurer is another solid option and perhaps also the least obvious. After all, you weren’t driving, why should you be able to use your car insurance? If on your policy you have PIP or MedPay, you can use those to pay for your medical bills. Unfortuntately, since you are filing a claim, it may cause your rates to go up. PIP and MedPay also have limits, meaning very expensive accidents may not be fully covered, At the very least, they should be enough to cover any immediate medical bills however.
If you can afford it, we highly recommend you consider adding either of them to your policy. MedPay is generally cheaper than PIP, but it does not cover expenses stemming from psychological counseling or protecting lost wages like PIP does. Even so, the speed and ease of which it works for physical injuries makes its highly valuable to have on your policy.
If you have health insurance as well, you should be able to tap into it to pay for your medical costs. You might need to fully exhuast your auto benefits first though. Health insurance plans can be different in how they treat this, so check with your insurer first. If you haven't met it yet, you may also need to pay the deductible first on your health plan before getting benefits.
Using Your Uninsured Motorist Insurance
One in seven drivers in the U.S. are uninsured. If your friend or the other driver are one of those people, and you don't have PIP or MedPay on your policy, you should be able to file through your own uninsured motorist insurance. Uninsured motorist is meant to be used in place of BI, and is through your own insurance company. You may only use it however when it is proven the other driver is truly uninsured.