LEGAL OPTIONS FOR PASSENGERS IN MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS
December 29, 2020 | Ryan M. Molitoris
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Statistics indicate that more than 90% of all motor vehicle accidents in the United States involve driver error. For a passenger injured in a crash, the driver may seem like the logical party to file a claim against. However, Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn Attorney Ryan Molitoris cautions us that “there may be other parties who bear financial responsibility”. Those parties may include insurance companies, vehicle owners, vehicle manufacturers, and government agencies responsible for maintaining the road on which the accident occurred.
If you are injured in a single-car accident, you may have a claim against the driver’s insurance company. In multiple vehicle incidents there may be some conflict in determining who was responsible. That may need to be determined by a court.
In some cases, a claim may be filed against your own insurance company. This could be necessary, for example, when the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured.
In Pennsylvania, a vehicle owner may face liability under negligent entrustment. This legal theory can come into play when the owner entrusts the vehicle to someone he or she knows, or should know, is incapable of using the vehicle properly and a third party is injured as a result.
Although the vast majority of motor vehicle accidents involve human error, tens of thousands of accidents are caused by a defect of a vehicle or one of its components. These types of accidents can give rise to a product liability claim.
Some motor vehicle accidents result from dangerous road conditions such as missing guardrails, potholes, faulty or poorly programmed traffic control devices, and road debris. Maintaining roads is typically the responsibility of government agencies, making these agencies potential defendants. The government usually enjoys immunity from lawsuits. Pennsylvania has two statutes which shield its government agencies from liability when people suffer injury on government property or by government workers. However, both Pennsylvania statutes set forth nine exceptions where sovereign immunity will not apply. These exceptions include dangerous conditions on state highways and municipal streets.
How you proceed with a claim for your injury depends, in part, on the type of vehicle you were riding in.
Injured passengers are often reluctant to file a claim because they may have been riding with a friend or family member. Keep in mind that you'd typically be making a claim not against them, but against their insurance company. As for concerns about their policy rates increasing, that is typically a consequence of the accident itself.
A common carrier is defined as “an individual or business that advertises to the public that it is available for hire to transport people or property in exchange for a fee”. Common carriers include limousines, buses, trains and taxis. Pennsylvania, like most other states, holds common carriers to a higher standard of care than that of a regular driver. Common carriers must exercise the “utmost care” when transporting passengers.
When you are injured as a passenger involved in a common carrier accident, there may be several potential defendants in a lawsuit. The vehicle driver could be held liable if he or she is determined to have been responsible for the accident. Additionally, the carrier could be liable for negligence such as faulty hiring practices or insufficient training procedures. The vehicle manufacturer or service company could also be liable for vehicle defects or improper repairs.
Ride Share Vehicles
Unlike taxis, Uber® and Lyft® vehicles are not classified as common carriers in Pennsylvania, so the standard of care they must meet is lower than carriers’. Transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber® and Lyft® classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. That insulates TNCs from vicarious liability for negligence on the part of the driver.
Injured passengers can file a claim against the at-fault driver. However, you could encounter a problem if it’s the ride share driver who is at fault. That’s because these drivers typically won't have a commercial car insurance policy that will cover your injuries. And it’s likely that their personal car insurance policy will contain a "business use exception”, so it won't cover damages and injuries which occur while the insured is acting as a for-profit driver. The best option for obtaining compensation may be the TNC’s insurance company. This coverage would typically provide up $1 million in coverage per accident.