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Can a passenger sue a driver after an accident?

  1. Can a passenger sue a driver after an accident?
  2. What should you do if you are a passenger in a car accident?
  3. What insurance policies cover passengers after a car accident?
  4. What if the at-fault driver of the car I was riding in is my friend?
  5. Can a passenger be held responsible for an accident?
  6. Can a passenger sue a not-at-fault driver in an accident?
  7. If the insurance company wants a fight, we’ll give them one

Can a passenger sue a driver after an accident?

can a passenger sue a driver

Bad car accidents don’t just hurt the drivers involved. In fact, federal crash data shows that approximately one third of all people involved in car crashes are passengers.

In Washington state, passengers injured in car, truck, or motorcycle collisions can sue or file an insurance claim against the at-fault driver to pay for medical bills and other damages.

An injured passenger will still need to keep their guard up, though, because it is not beyond an insurance company to try to blame a victim in the passenger’s seat for causing a crash.

At Herschensohn Law, our firm has fielded many questions from passengers involved in car accidents in the Seattle Metro area. Below, we provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

What should you do if you are a passenger in a car accident?

can a passenger sue a driver

After a car accident, your passive role as a passenger is over. You do not have to—nor should you—sit back and let the drivers and insurance companies decide what happens to you next.

It’s time for action. Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a timeline. Write down as many events about the crash as possible to establish a record of the accident. Include when, where, and how the accident happened while the incident is still fresh in your mind. This can be an excellent piece of evidence to support your claim later
  • Take photos of the accident and your injuries. Don’t put yourself at extra risk at the scene of the crash. However, you should take as many photos as you can when it’s safe; a cell phone camera is fine for this.
  • Call the police. This would typically be the driver’s responsibility, but make sure that the crash is reported, and the responding officer completes an accident report. It can be easier for an at-fault driver to deny responsibility without an official record of the crash.
  • Identify witnesses and get their contact information. Their testimony will be helpful to your claim later.
  • Get insurance information from both drivers. This includes the driver you were in the car with—even if they’re your friend or someone you know.
  • Accept medical treatment. If EMS are present, get examined at the scene of the accident and see a doctor as soon as you can afterward. Even if you feel fine, emergency responders may be able to identify injuries you are too shocked or stunned to notice. Furthermore, some injuries take time to show symptoms and will not be detectable by emergency responders.
  • Say as little as possible. Cooperate with the police and do provide your contact information, but do not elaborate on the details of the accident until you have spoken with an attorney. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could get you blamed for the accident.
  • Contact a Washington car accident lawyer. A car accident attorney can review the details of your case, answer your questions, and explain your legal options. This can be done at no cost during a free consultation, which is something most if not all personal injury law firms offer.
  • File one or more personal injury or insurance claims. After consulting with an attorney to decide your best path forward, you can file a claim for damages with the at-fault driver or drivers, including the person who was driving the vehicle you were in at the time of the crash. You may also need to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. The compensation you are seeking should cover current and future medical expenses related to the accident, your pain and suffering, lost wages, destroyed property, and other damages.

RELATED: What to do if you’re involved in a crash in Washington state

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What insurance policies cover passengers after a car accident?

can a passenger sue a driver in an accident

Depending on the details of the accident, several sources of insurance coverage may apply to your situation.

Washington is a fault state, which means you can file an injury claim for damages with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If the at-fault driver’s insurance company won’t cover all the costs or rejects your claim, you can file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the driver who caused the crash.

Washington is also a “comparative negligence” state, which means various people share fault for causing a crash. If you are found to be 10% at fault for an accident, for example, it means you can seek payment for 90% of your damages.

You may potentially need to file a claim with:

  • The other driver’s insurance. This would apply if the other driver was at fault in the accident. However, since Washington only requires drivers to carry $25,000 in injury insurance per person (or up to $50,000 total if multiple people are injured in a single crash), this may not cover all your damages, especially if multiple people in the vehicle you were riding in were injured.
  • Your driver’s insurance. If your own driver was responsible, or both drivers share the blame, you may need to make a liability claim against your own driver instead of, or in addition to, the other driver. Furthermore, if the other driver was at fault but does not have enough insurance coverage to fully cover your costs, your own driver’s uninsured/underinsured motorist (UI/UIM) insurance (if they have it as part of their policy) can pick up the slack. And if they also have personal injury protection (PIP) or MedPay coverage, that can often kick in right away to help pay for medical bills regardless of who is at fault.
  • Your own auto insurance. Even though you weren’t driving, if you have your own auto insurance and your policy coverage includes PIP/MedPay benefits, they may apply to your situation as well. (This is one reason why we always recommend you purchase UI/UIM and PIP/MedPay coverage, even though it’s not required in Washington.)

If you’re not sure which insurance policies apply to you as a passenger, contact an attorney as soon as you can. They can help identify potential policies and file a claim.

RELATED: Why should I purchase uninsured motorist coverage?

What if the at-fault driver of the car I was riding in is my friend?

can a passenger sue a driver in an accident

If you’re a passenger in a car, naturally, there’s a pretty good chance that a friend is behind the wheel. And if the crash turns out to be your own driver’s fault (or at least partly their fault), that can lead to some awkward and difficult decisions—particularly if you’ve suffered injuries and need help with medical bills or lost wages.

The reality is that, yes, in some cases you may have to file an injury claim against your friend’s insurance company, or even sue them to get fair compensation for your injuries. This could be the case if your friend caused the accident, if responsibility is shared between your friend and the other driver, or if the other driver was uninsured or underinsured.

Remember that, in almost every case, your friend will not be paying out of pocket to cover your expenses. It’s the insurance company that will pay out—and your driver pays that monthly premium to protect themselves against (among other things) this very situation. In most cases, by not filing claim, you’re really only saving the insurance company money.

Obviously, these cases can be complicated and emotions can run high, so make sure you get solid legal advice (and potentially talk with your friend) first.

Can a passenger be held responsible for an accident?

can a passenger sue a driver in an accident

It’s rare, but there are circumstances in which a passenger can be found at fault or partially at fault in an accident.

Passengers can be held responsible if they contributed to the accident by taking control or attempting to take control of the driver, steering wheel, brakes, gear shift, or other vehicle function or otherwise did something disruptive while the car was driving.

Simply talking with the driver could be considered disruptive in some cases and earn a passenger a share of the blame. With more attention being paid to the dangers of distracted driving recently, a savvy insurance adjuster could use any indication of a conversation as a reason to challenge your claim.

Finally, an insurance company or court may find you to be partially negligent and limit the damages you can receive if you willingly put yourself in a risky situation, such as getting into a car with an intoxicated driver or not wearing a safety belt.

Can a passenger sue a not-at-fault driver in an accident?

can a passenger sue a driver

You cannot successfully sue someone if they did not have any part in causing the accident. But there are often more people responsible for a crash than just the drivers.

In many cases, you can pursue compensation from others who had some responsibility for the accident including defective parts manufacturers or, if alcohol was a factor, the establishment that over-served the drunk driver. Again, an experienced Washington car accident attorney can help you understand liability in the accident and your options.

If the insurance company wants a fight, we’ll give them one

Herschensohn Law is not afraid to take on the insurance companies and represent accident victims who have tough claims, including those involving passengers. We know how to build a strong evidence-based case and hammer away at the insurance companies until they make an appropriate offer.

We do not accept lowball settlements. If an insurance adjuster doesn’t want to act fairly, we have no problem taking the fight to court. We thrive on litigation and look forward to the opportunity to win your case in front of a judge and jury.

Attorney Zach Herschensohn confronts the insurance companies head-on and has won millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for clients. See what a personal injury lawyer with high energy and a strong work ethic can do for you.

Contact us today for a free consultation. Our office is located in Kent, WA and we serve clients throughout the Seattle Metro area.


United States Department of Transportation. (2008, July). National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, Report to Congress. Retrieved from: National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, Report to Congress.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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