Last updated on August 7th, 2023
Most discussion of liability for automobile crash injuries revolves around the drivers, one or both of whom are usually responsible–at least in part–for the collision. You probably assume that injured passengers are entitled to similar compensation, and that’s generally true. But, who is responsible for compensating an injured passenger? What types of insurance coverage may be available when you’re the passenger injured in a car accident and not the insured driver of the vehicle? And what happens if you’re riding with the responsible driver?
Most car accident cases are negligence claims. Under Ohio law, a person or entity (like a business) is responsible for injuries to another person if:
In Ohio, drivers have a duty to obey traffic laws and exercise care for the safety of others on and around the road. If they breach that duty–for instance, by speeding or texting while driving–and hurt someone in the process, they’re typically responsible for damages.
In some circumstances, other parties may be responsible or may share responsibility. Some examples include:
In most cases, the possible responsible parties and the person or entity liable to the injured passenger will be the same as they would if the passenger had been another driver, a pedestrian, or some other person injured in the crash. The most common examples are the driver of the other vehicle and the driver of the vehicle the passenger is riding in.
A passenger injured in a car accident when the driver of another car runs a red light and hits the vehicle they’re riding in or sideswipes the car they’re in on the highway will typically have a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. The injured passenger in this situation often has one advantage compared with a driver bringing a claim against another driver: the responsible driver will rarely be able to argue that the injured passenger was partly responsible for their own injuries. That means contributory negligence is less likely to play a role and less likely to reduce the compensation available.
If the driver is working at the time of the collision, the employer may bear responsibility for damages. This typically means that there may be more insurance coverage available to fully compensate the injured passenger.
In most situations, the legal rights of the passenger of a negligent driver are the same as they would be if the responsible driver had been in another vehicle. Often, though, the injured passenger will be hesitant about pursuing a claim when the responsible party is a friend or family member. It’s important to remember that most car accident claims are paid by insurance companies, not drivers.
The driver has paid for automobile insurance specifically to make sure that if they injure someone or destroy someone else’s property, the injured person has access to fair compensation.
The additional possible responsible parties in a motor vehicle case, such as manufacturers of defective products and those who fail to maintain roads in safe conditions may also be responsible to an injured passenger, just as they would to a driver who was injured under the same circumstances.
There are a few situations in which liability to injured passengers differs from the norm. One common example is when a passenger is injured during a rideshare trip. Another is when the passenger is traveling with a co-worker in the course of employment.
Because drivers for companies like Uber are typically independent contractors, rideshare companies generally deny responsibility for rideshare accidents. However, Uber does provide up to $1 million in liability insurance. You can learn more about liability in rideshare accidents in our previous post, “Uber Crashes: What is the Law?”
In Ohio, workers’ compensation is generally an exclusive remedy–at least to the employer. That means an injured worker typically can’t sue the employer for injuries sustained on the job. Instead, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits such as replacement income and medical care.
However, it’s important to note that there may be third parties who are wholly or partly responsible for the crash, and injured workers may be able to pursue personal injury claims against third parties. Since the damages available in a personal injury case are much more extensive, a worker in this position should talk to an attorney right away. The best lawyer for this situation will be one who is familiar with both Ohio workers’ compensation law and personal injury claims.
This is really two separate questions. First, are passengers ever liable for injuries to others (either in the vehicle with them or outside the vehicle)? Second, are passengers ever deemed responsible for their own injuries?
It is very rare that a passenger in a vehicle would be found negligent in a way that made them responsible for injuries to others in the vehicle, injury victims in another vehicle their car collided with, or someone outside the vehicle such as a pedestrian or bicyclist. But, it’s not impossible.
Imagine for example, that the passenger in a vehicle decided it would be funny to suddenly throw a water balloon at the driver of the vehicle they were riding in. The balloon broke, splashing water in the driver’s face. The driver was both started and momentarily blinded and swerved the vehicle into another car. Although the passenger wasn’t in control of the vehicle at the time of the collision, their negligent actions substantially contributed to the incident and at least partially caused any resulting injuries.
The scenario described above is the most obvious one in which a passenger might be found wholly or partly responsible for their own injuries. Generally, an injured person who is partly responsible can still recover compensation. But, that compensation is reduced in proportion to their own responsibility. And, under Ohio law, they aren’t eligible for compensation at all if they’re more than half responsible.
A more nuanced example might involve a passenger who knowingly decided to get in the car with a drunk driver. Though the driver’s negligence caused the collision, the passenger may be found partly responsible for having taken the risk of negligently getting in the car with someone who was under the influence of alcohol.
There are also limited circumstances in which the passenger’s choices may limit their ability to collect compensation. For example, in Ohio, auto insurance policies typically exclude coverage for anyone involved in street racing, which could include the passenger of a street racer if they knowingly went along for the race or egged on the driver.
At Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz, we have extensive experience representing passengers injured in car accidents, and also knowledge of potentially-related areas of law such as workers’ compensation and product liability. This broad-based knowledge and experience helps ensure that you identify all possible responsible parties and can pursue the maximum compensation available.
To schedule a free consultation, call 937-222-2222 or fill out the contact form on this page.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured, please fill out the form below for your free consultation or call us at 1.937.222.2222
After an accident, and being inundated with offers from out-of-town lawyers, I called DGMS, and I am glad I did. They took over and I received a maximum payout very quickly after all the medical was done. Especially, Amy K. who always took my calls, and answered all my questions promptly. Thanks Amy K.
My attorney was/is Dominic Zambelli and from the very start, my experience with him was amazing. He explained what I needed to do for the case, the timeline, and put my mind at ease immediately. Fast forward six months, my case is settled and I am very happy with the result. If you are ever, and I mean EVER, looking for an honest, transparent, and diligent lawyer, call DGM&S and ask for Dominic. You will not be disappointed.
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