Along for the Ride – Who is responsible for a passenger’s injuries in a car accident?

The driver of a vehicle is oftentimes not the only one injured in a car accident. In fact, in many instances, a passenger is hurt worse than the driver. Situations like these often cause Iowans to wonder if and against whom a claim can be made given that he or she was not even driving. The answer, while not the same in every situation, is that the passenger sometimes has an even greater ability to recover than does a driver. To begin with a driver who causes an accident is responsible to those who may be injured as a result of his negligence. This extends not only to other drivers but to any passengers of another car that is involved in the accident. Criminal charges were recently filed against a man that is alleged to have caused an accident with a van driven by the Dejoode family from Ankeny. Tragically, two of the children Carson, 5, and his sister Claire, 5 months were killed. The mother, Heather and her other son Chase were severely hurt. For more the KCCI story on the charges filed as a result, click here. In this case, if the alleged driver, Kevin Dalasta of Ankeny, is found to be civilly liable, he will not only be responsible for the injuries caused to the driver, Heather, but to the injuries and deaths of the 3 children as well. However, civil liability for causing an accident does not stop at those injured in other vehicles. In fact a negligent driver is generally responsible for injuries sustained by all who were hurt, including those in his own car as well. So if Mr. Dalasta were to be found responsible for the wreck and he had two passengers of his own that were injured, he would also generally be responsible for those injuries as well. There do exist some exceptions to passenger injury claims as well as some interesting and sometimes unforeseen applications. First, if the injured passenger that is riding with a negligent driver is a family member, that family member is often (but not always) excluded by the insurance policy. This makes some sense too because, as many believe, it would be against public policy for, say, a wife to file a lawsuit against her husband to compel their auto insurance company to pay for injuries sustained due to her husband's negligence. This exclusion oftentimes only applies to immediate family members though. Further, it can have some odd results such as if a family member is severely injured in an accident while a driver's friend walks away with just scratches. The severe injuries may not be covered while the minor abrasions of the friend may indeed be. However, when a family exclusion clause applies, this may result in uninsured or underinsured insurance policies may apply to provide some compensation that otherwise would not be covered. Also, passengers oftentimes have a better legal ability to secure compensation for their injuries as the questions of who is at fault does not necessarily make a difference regarding whether or not the passenger will be compensated. This is because the concept of comparative fault does not apply to passengers unless they specifically engage in conduct that may have contributed to the accident. For example, if Driver A with Passenger P gets into an accident with Driver B and both A and P are injured, the responsible party is generally responsible for those injuries. If A and P believe the responsible party to be B, they can both make a claim against B. However, if B claims it is primarily A's fault and that turns out to be correct, A would generally be precluded from getting compensation. This would not be the case for P though as A, or more likely, his insurance, would then be responsible for P's injuries. In this way, a Passenger is often in better position to make a claim because no matter who is at ultimately fault they are owed compensation given that they could not have been to blame, they were just "along for the ride." The dynamics of a potential claim against a driver can place a passenger in the uncomfortable position of being forced to make a claim against a friend or someone close to you. However, in most cases, the passenger is merely proceeding against her friend's insurance company, not the friend's personal money or assets. In fact this is what we have insurance for and if it is there for strangers should it also not be there to protect friends as well? As you can see there can be many unforeseen implications of a passenger being injured in a car accident. However, very often, the passenger can be in a better position to recover than a driver given that a passenger can rarely be attributed fault. Regardless, even if you are just along for the ride, you have rights too and it is important to be aware of them.