Passenger In Car Accident Rights: What You Need To Know
What are your legal rights if you are a passenger in a car accident and have been injured?
I hear this question quite a bit from people who are commuting in someone else’s car. This is one of those situations where no one would even think about what your legal rights are or how No-Fault insurance will apply if you are commuting in a car – that is, until it happens to you.
It’s an important question because there is also a lot of misinformation out there and conflicting advice from claims adjusters and agents on how No-Fault insurance works and the order of priority that leaves some people thinking they don’t have any legal rights and cannot get help if they are a passenger in a car accident and injured.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today, I will review the legal rights of a passenger in a car accident who has been injured, including whether they are covered by auto No-Fault insurance, their rights to sue at-fault drivers for pain and suffering and what drivers need to know about them. I will also talk about child commuters and special protections to keep children safe in cars.
Are passengers covered by car insurance?
Yes. A passenger in a car accident in Michigan who has been injured is covered by car insurance.
The Michigan No-Fault law guarantees they are covered for PIP benefits that will pay for the following:
- All accident-related necessary medical expenses
- Lost wages when their accident-related injuries prevent them returning to work
- Replacement services
This does change after July 1, 2020 when certain provisions of the new auto No-Fault law take effect in Michigan.
After July 1, 2020, coverage for a passenger in a car accident for all necessary accident-related medical expenses will now be limited by the coverage level – or PIP cap – that he or she has selected in his or her own insurance policy or by the selected new PIP cap coverage levels chosen in the policies of their spouse and/or a resident relative they will be claiming No-Fault benefits from. (MCL 500.3107c(5))
If I am a passenger in a car accident, whose auto insurance company pays benefits?
Generally, if you are a passenger in a car accident in Michigan who has been injured, you will receive auto No-Fault benefits through your own auto insurance policy or the policy of a spouse or a relative who lives with you.
This No-Fault “order of priority” determines the order for which an auto insurance company will step up to pay for the commuter’s auto No-Fault benefits. The order of priority is as follows:
- First: The first priority for paying No-Fault benefits to an injured commuter is his or her own auto insurance company, i.e., the auto insurer who issued a personal No-Fault auto insurance policy to the commuter where he or she is the “named insured” in the policy. (MCL 500.3114(1))
- Second: The second priority for paying No-Fault benefits to an injured commuter is the auto insurance company that issued a No-Fault policy to the commuter’s spouse. (MCL 500.3114(1))
- Third: The third priority for paying No-Fault benefits to an injured commuter is the auto insurance company that issued a No-Fault policy to a resident relative of the commuter. (MCL 500.3114(1))
Currently, you have the right to “unlimited” coverage of No-Fault PIP medical benefits whether they make a claim under their own policy or the policy belonging to a spouse or resident relative.
However, as I explained above, under the new auto law, once the new No-Fault PIP medical benefits coverage levels become available in insurance policies issued or renewed after July 1, 2020, a commuter’s coverage of accident-related medical expenses will be limited by the coverage level he or she selected in his or her own policy or by the coverage levels chosen in the policies of the commuter’s spouse and/or resident relative. (MCL 500.3107c(5)). These new No-Fault PIP medical benefits coverage levels after July 1, 2020 will include: $50,000 (for drivers on Medicaid); $250,000; $500,000; and an unlimited option. (MCL 500.3107c(1))
What if I am a passenger in a car accident without insurance?
If you are a passenger in a car accident without insurance in Michigan and also don’t have auto insurance coverage through a policy belonging to your spouse or a resident relative, the No-Fault law will still protect you if you have been injured.
Under any of these circumstances where no one in the order of priority is insured or has auto insurance, a you can still recover benefits if he or she applies to the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan. The auto law states that an uninsured commuter “shall” apply for No-Fault benefits through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan and an insurance company will be selected to pay your auto No-Fault insurance benefits. (MCL 500.3114(4))
Importantly, your coverage for No-Fault PIP medical benefits under the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan will be limited to $250,000. (MCL 500.3172(7)(a))
The Assigned Claims Plan, which is administered by the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (MAIPF), provides No-Fault benefits to a car crash victim – including uninsured commuters – for whom No-Fault benefits coverage is not otherwise available under the order of priority for No-Fault benefits. (MCL 500.3172(1))
If I am a passenger in a car accident, who do I sue?
If you are a passenger in a car accident in Michigan and have been injured, you can sue both the at-fault driver and their insurance company (third-party case) and/or the No-Fault auto insurance company responsible for unpaid and overdue No-Fault PIP benefits (first-party case).
Under Michigan law, when suing the at fault negligent driver who caused the accident for pain and suffering, you will be entitled to compensation from the at-fault driver (and his or her insurance company) for your injuries, pain and suffering, and any excess economic loss and excess medical bills over the No-Fault PIP cap you have.
Depending on the circumstances of how the accident occurred, a pain and suffering lawsuit may be filed against the at-fault driver – whether that at-fault negligent driver driver of the vehicle who struck the car you were in or the driver of the vehicle you were caused the crash.
However, there is one unique legal requirement that we have in Michigan that does not exist in other states. In order to bring a claim for pain and suffering compensation, an injured traveler in your car must first show that he or she has suffered a “serious impairment of body function.” This is the No-Fault law’s tort threshold requirement that any passenger in a car accident who has been injured must be able to show in order to recover “noneconomic loss” damages (i.e., pain and suffering compensation).
Also, beware of step-down policies in your auto insurance coverage. If a commuter has been injured and is suing the driver of his or her vehicle and the driver happens to be a family member, then the they may also have to contend with what is called a “step-down” provision that your own insurance company has inserted into your policy. The effect of these step-down provisions is to reduce an auto insurance policy’s liability coverage down to the state minimums when an injured person is suing a spouse or family member for his or her injuries. Step-downs are optional contractual coverages. In my opinion as an insurance and auto accident lawyer, there is no justifiable reason for any person to ever purchase car insurance from a company that is trying to sell you a policy that includes a step-down clause. A step-down provision is deliberately anti-consumer and anti-customer. It punishes those you love and want to protect the most if a loved one is ever hurt while they are traveling in your car.
If I am a passenger in a car accident, can I be a witness?
Yes. If are a passenger in a car accident you have personal knowledge of the events surrounding the accident, then you could be called as a witness by any of the people involved in the crash who, ultimately, become parties in a lawsuit.
However, if a passenger in a car accident suffered injuries that may affect his or her perception of events, such as being rendered unconscious and otherwise having impaired perception, then the their relevance and qualifications to be a witness may need to be evaluated accordingly.
What if I’m driving another child and they are injured in an accident, what are their No-Fault insurance rights?
If someone else’s child is traveling in your vehicle and he or she is injured in an accident, then the child would collect No-Fault benefits through the following sources:
- First: The child would collect No-Fault benefits through his or her parents’ auto insurance policies where the child and the parents live together, i.e., where they are resident relatives.
- Second: If there is no source of No-Fault coverage through the child’s parents as resident relatives, then an application for No-Fault benefits would be filed with the Michigan Assigned Claim Plan on the child’s behalf. The child would then collect benefits from the auto insurance company that the Plan assigned to handle his or her claim.
If you or a loved one was a passenger in a car accident in Michigan and was injured, and you’re unclear about your rights, call Michigan Auto Law at (800) 777-0028. You can also fill out our lawyer free consultation form. Our lawyers can answer all of your insurance questions at no charge.