What Are the Legal Rights of a Passenger Who is Injured in a Car Accident?

Regardless of whether they are drivers or passengers, vehicle occupants may pursue compensation for crash injuries caused by reckless, negligent, or illegal actions, such as driving through a red light.  If you sustained a passenger injury in a side-impact collision, a single-vehicle accident, or any other type of crash, you should speak to the Oklahoma automotive accident attorneys of Hasbrook & Hasbrook about your legal options for getting compensated.

Getting Compensated as an Injured Passenger: Filing a Third-Party Insurance Claim

Motorists have a legal duty to follow traffic laws and exercise common sense while driving.  When a driver decides that he or she is exempt from the rules of the road – or, simply makes a careless mistake – that driver may be liable for personal injury or wrongful death caused by the resulting accident.  This basic premise holds true regardless of whether the injury victim is a driver or a passenger.

filing insurance claim after car accident

Some common ways drivers can be reckless or negligent when operating a motor vehicle include:

  • Driving the wrong way down a one-way street
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Following too closely
  • Ignoring right-of-way
  • Making illegal U-turns and other prohibited driving maneuvers
  • Making improper turns
  • Texting while driving

When a passenger gets injured in an Oklahoma car crash, there are a few ways he or she can go about getting compensated.  In most cases, the first step is to make an insurance claim.  This may involve:

  • Filing a third-party claim against the driver at fault for the accident. The at-fault driver could be the driver of the other vehicle, or the driver of the vehicle the passenger was riding in.  All drivers must have certain levels of coverage under the minimum auto insurance requirements in Oklahoma
  • Filing a first-party insurance claim with his or her own insurer. If the at-fault driver was not insured, or if the costs of the passenger’s injuries exceed the at-fault driver’s coverage limits, the passenger can turn to their own UM (Uninsured Motorist) or UIM (Underinsured Motorist) insurance.  Since Oklahoma has the highest number of uninsured drivers in the nation, it’s advisable to at least consider purchasing UM or UIM insurance coverage.

Alternately, the injured passenger could file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident.  However, most people prefer to seek a settlement before initiating litigation.  Before you make a decision, you should speak to an experienced car accident lawyer.  You may also be interested in reading our article on insurance claims and personal injury lawsuits.

Common Injuries in Side-Impact Collisions

Common sense dictates that the risk of passenger injury increases when the passenger side, or either side in the rear, is directly impacted by another vehicle.  Researchers have found that, among car accidents documented from 1975 to 1998, approximately one third were side-impact crashes.  Among 920,000 vehicle occupants in side-impact collisions during the period from 1988 to 1997, approximately 11,300 people were killed.  Medical research has shown that, in multi-vehicle accidents, the two and ten o’clock positions are generally most harmful, followed by three and nine o’clock.

Unless the passenger is seated in the rear middle position, he or she has little protection against physical trauma.  This is particularly true of older vehicles, which may not be outfitted with side-impact airbags (SABs).  Despite estimating that SABs could potentially save up to 1,000 lives each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not presently require or regulate SABs – only frontal air bags.

In the absence of SABs – and sometimes, even with SAB protection – side-impact collisions can inflict devastating injuries upon passengers.  A common example is traumatic brain injury (TBI), which NHTSA researchers estimate affects up to 60% of all passengers killed in fatal side-impact accidents.  Even when that criteria is broadened to include all types of car accidents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still estimates that approximately 14.3% of traumatic brain injuries are caused by motor vehicle traffic.  Sadly, TBI causes approximately 50,000 deaths each year, leaving millions of others non-fatally injured.

back pain from car accident

Other common injuries resulting from side-impact crashes include:

  • Thoracic/Pelvic Injuries – According to NHTSA data, the chest (thorax) and hips (pelvis) are more likely to be injured than any other area of the body in a side-impact accident. Some examples include broken ribs, pelvic fractures, and pulmonary contusions (bruising of the lung).
  • Leg and Foot Injuries/Arm and Shoulder Injuries – The leg, foot, arm, and shoulder against the inside of the passenger door can be crushed, dislocated, or fractured as the door is driven inward (“door intrusion”) by the force of the striking vehicle.
  • Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) – The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that allows the brain and body to communicate, relaying messages between them. When the spinal cord is damaged by physical trauma, the victim can become paralyzed, have partial loss of motion/flexibility in a limb, and lose physical sensation.

If you suffered a passenger injury in an Oklahoma City car accident, you may be able to recover compensation for surgeries, hospital bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other losses caused by the crash.  Call the experience  Oklahoma City car accident lawyers at the law offices of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 698-3040 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.