Who Pays for a Passenger's Medical Bill in the Event of a Car Accident?

October 21, 2016

It may seem like a passenger’s role in a personal injury case would be more complex than the driver’s, but in truth, it’s the opposite. A passenger not only has all the same rights to compensation as a driver, but he or she has an easier case – since he or she doesn’t have to worry about proving liability. One of the drivers will be liable for the crash, not the passenger. Only in a case where the at-fault driver can prove that the passenger caused the accident, such as in a case where the passenger grabbed the steering wheel, would the court hold the passenger liable.

Passenger Rights After a Car Accident

After an accident, victims typically have to visit an emergency room immediately. This incurs the costs of a hospital stay, X-rays, tests, treatments, and medical equipment right away. A settlement may eventually reimburse you for these costs, but who pays the immediate bills? On an ongoing basis, you have to pay your own medical bills as a passenger. It may not seem fair, but California law states that even if the defendant is clearly at fault, he or she doesn’t have to pay your ongoing medical costs until the court grants you an award.
California is a fault state, meaning you generally will be responsible for paying your own medical bills after a car accident. If a driver has medical payment insurance coverage, however, he or she will pay for your medical bills as a passenger involved in a car accident. MedPay coverage will pay your immediate health care costs up to a maximum limit. If you don’t have this type of insurance, you have to pay for your own costs until you reach a successful settlement.
A passenger can file his or her own personal injury claim in California. Instead of filing a claim against the other driver, however, the passenger (the plaintiff) can file a claim against both drivers in a two-car collision. The passenger would need to gather the insurance and contact information of both drivers involved. Taking photos that place the passenger at the scene of the accident also will help his or her case, as proof that the plaintiff sustained his or her injuries in the crash.
The passenger would need to file a claim with both drivers’ car insurance companies. This type of claim is a “third-party claim,” in which the plaintiff files a claim with an insurance company other than his or her own. A passenger can file with one or both companies if either driver doesn’t have enough liability coverage to cover your damages. If you’re related to the driver at the time of the accident, the driver’s car insurance likely already covers your damages. In this case, you couldn’t pursue a claim with the company since it insures you.

When Does a Passenger Need a Lawyer?

While pursuing a claim with insurance companies is typically a simple process for passengers, there are some circumstances in which the passenger may want to hire an attorney. For example, if neither side wants to settle, an innocent passenger can get caught in a lengthy dispute between both insurance companies. In this case, the passenger will suffer from a delayed settlement.
If there are multiple passengers injured in a car accident, the total cost of the passengers’ injuries is likely greater than the at-fault driver’s coverage amount. In this case, each person has to settle for less than what his or her case is worth. A car accident lawyer can help a passenger understand his or her options in this situation and potentially reach a personal injury settlement that fully covers his or her medical bills and other damages.