What Rights Do You Have As A Passenger In An Auto Collision?
It may not be an active thought that runs through your mind, but every time you get into a vehicle as a passenger you are placing your life into everyone else’s hands; both in the hands of your driver and every other driver you encounter on your route. It’s the last thing you want to think about, but accidents can and do happen. They often result in passengers getting hurt truly, through no fault of their own.
In an accident involving another driver, usually one of the two drivers will be deemed at fault for the accident and therefore responsible for paying the other driver’s injuries and other damages.
Unlike most states, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia follow a rule of recovery called “contributory negligence.” Under the rule of contributory negligence, if a party is seeking recovery for damages that resulted from an accident, and that party was at fault for the accident even in the slightest degree, then he or she is completely precluded from recovering those damages against the other driver — even if the other driver was 99% at fault. This plaintiff-unfriendly rule can have devastating consequences for a driver who has suffered significant injuries at the hands of the other driver where the other driver is at the majority at fault. If both drivers are deemed at fault, where does this leave the passenger who bears no fault under either scenario?
While no one who has been in an automobile accident is truly said to be fortunate, the passenger in an accident, whether a passenger of the at-fault driver or another driver, is in an advantageous position in that the passenger will automatically have a valid claim. More importantly, the passenger’s claim for recovery will not be barred just because his driver was at fault. In other words, the driver’s fault is not used against the driver’s passenger. This was not always the case.
Up until recently in Maryland, the passenger-owner of a vehicle could be prevented from recovering in certain circumstances against a third-party negligent driver under a theory of imputed negligence. In the case of Seaborne-Worsley v. Mintien, 458 Md. 555 (2018) the defendant struck a parked car in which the plaintiff was seated as a passenger, causing her injuries. The plaintiff was waiting in the car while her husband, who drove the car that evening, went into a restaurant to pick up food. The plaintiff’s husband had parked the car across two handicapped spots behind where the defendant’s truck was parked. As the plaintiff waited in the car, the defendant got into his truck and backed up into plaintiff’s vehicle. The car in which plaintiff was seated was registered only in the plaintiff’s name. Shortly after the plaintiff filed her lawsuit for damages, the defendant raised the defense of contributory negligence, arguing that the plaintiff’s husband’s unlawful parking contributed to the accident and that, under the theory of imputed negligence, his contributing acts are imputed on the plaintiff and therefore prevent her from recovery. The trial court agreed and entered judgment in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the Court of Appeals decided to discard the antiquated theory of imputed negligence as it applies to hold an innocent owner-passenger contributorily negligent for the acts of her negligent driver, and ordered that the plaintiff is allowed to proceed with her lawsuit.
An injured passenger in an auto accident can file a claim against either his driver or the other driver. The downside is that the often overlooked passenger will now also have to wait until one of the two drivers’ insurance companies either accept responsibility for the accident (don’t hold your breath), or a determination of liability is made by a judge or jury. The more vehicles involved in the accident, the more complicated this becomes. Of course, if there are no other vehicles involved, for instance, because the driver struck a tree, then the passenger has a straightforward claim against the driver. Matters are further complicated when there is more than one passenger, as the driver’s available insurance funds may not be enough to adequately cover each passenger’s damages. The passenger who is not represented by an attorney may be slighted in favor of the passenger who has an attorney, as insurance companies are notoriously skilled at convincing unrepresented claimants to take their best low-ball offer.
This is why it is crucial that an injured passenger seek the services of a qualified personal injury attorney as early on as possible. An attorney experienced in dealing with insurance companies will know the exact approach to take to ensure the client’s interests are being protected. A qualified attorney can also offer solutions to address a client’s surmounting medical bills and costs while their claim against the driver is pending.
If you or a loved one has been harmed in an accident, we invite you to set up a free consultation by clicking on this link http://www.plotnicklaw.com/free-consultation. These consultations are designed to help us establish the facts of your claim, evaluate your potential for compensation and develop the best strategy to help you. Your free consultation is also an opportunity for you to ask us any questions you may have about your legal rights and figure out if we're the right fit for you. And best of all, if you decide to hire us to represent you, you only have to pay if we win your case. That's because the Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC in Rockville, Maryland, works on a contingency fee basis. There are no hidden fees, no surprises.