Most drivers envision an auto accident being a collision involving themselves and other drivers. They do not think about the passengers in either vehicle. When attention shifts to passengers, the focus may center on the passengers in the other car. Thoughts about the passengers being transported in one’s own vehicle might never cross the mind until an accident occurs.
After an accident, a scary question may arise: “Can my passenger sue me?” The direct answer to the question is nothing would bar a passenger from filing a lawsuit. A more appropriate question to ask is “Would a passenger’s lawsuit have any merit?”
Different factors contribute to a specific answer to that question. Drivers concerned about a lawsuit should discuss matters with a qualified personal injury lawyer capable of addressing the question from all relevant legal perspectives.
Lawsuits and Negligence
All liability and personal injury cases center on negligence. Negligence means someone acted in a manner that contributed to fault or had a duty to act to prevent fault. Without negligence, a personal injury claim would not have much merit.
For example, a car could stop at a red light. Awaiting the light to change, a taxi cab travels 20 mph over the speed limit, does not slow down, and crashes into the rear of the stopped car. The police report indicates the taxi driver failed a field sobriety test. The sad result of the accident was severe back and neck injuries inflicted upon the passenger of the car.
The passenger would have a very strong lawsuit due to injuries suffered. The taxi cab driver was the cause of the accident and, if the passenger’s car’s driver was not negligence, then he/she would not likely be held at fault. That said, the possibility exists the passenger could still sue the driver.
Levels of Negligence
If the driver was only slightly negligent in an accident, it still may be possible to win a suit. For example, the seat belts on the passenger side may not have been in good condition. Hence, the driver could possibly be held, say, 20% for the injuries. The cab driver could be liable for the remaining 80%. Levels of contributory negligence are taken into consideration in an auto accident personal injury case.
The Defense of a Suit
Again, the potential does exist to be sued in any situation. People can sue for any reason they want even when their case is extremely weak. personal injury lawyers surely know how to deal with frivolous or meritless suits.
Just because someone sues does not mean he or she automatically wins. Nor would the plaintiff automatically receive a settlement when a case lacks merit. Negligence does need to exist and be proven. An personal injury attorney could challenge the circumstances of the accident and prove the driver was not negligent. Hence, the passenger may discover he/she does not have a case and might drop matters. The defendant’s counsel could also get the case dismissed. A plaintiff who brings forth a meritless case may find him/herself being forced to pay all legal bills — a very expensive outcome.
The Settlement Option
A passenger may not even bring forth a lawsuit. He/she could file a claim with the driver’s auto insurance policy. In doing so, the insurance company would appoint an adjuster who would negotiate with the plaintiff or his/her attorney. Be aware that insurance companies are only liable up to policy limits. The plaintiff could seek to sue beyond policy limits, which definitely means the driver needs an attorney.
Take Action After an Accident
Even if the passenger seems to be going the settlement route or does not immediately file a lawsuit, discussing the situation with a personal injury attorney probably would be wise. This way, immediate action can be taken upon the filing of a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations for personal injury in New York is three years from the date of the event. If the crash resulted in a wrongful death, the statute of limitations would be two years. Regardless, the passenger has time to file a suit and may not do so right away. The driver should prepare for any civil action by contacting a lawyer after an accident.
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