If you are a passenger injured in traffic in or near the Rochester area, because another driver was negligent, you may be entitled to compensation, but to obtain that compensation, you will need the advice and services of the right Rochester traffic accident attorney.

When you ride in a vehicle as a passenger, you have no control over how safely the person behind the wheel is driving and no ability to respond to the actions of other motorists. Your safety is in the hands of others.

Most everyone has been, or will be, a passenger at some time or another. If you are injured by a negligent motorist while you’re riding as a passenger, what are your rights? What steps should you take to learn if you are entitled to compensation and what steps should you take to recover that compensation?

The answers to those questions are discussed below, as well as where to turn for the legal help that you will need as an injured victim of negligence.

When Should You Consult a Personal Injury Lawyer?

If you are injured as a passenger in a traffic accident in New York, recovering the compensation you derive may be complicated. Don’t make any assumptions about your auto insurance coverage. Instead, consult a Rochester personal injury attorney as quickly as possible after the accident.

Your legal options for compensation after you have been injured as a passenger will hinge on the specific details of the accident and your injury. You will need to consult with an attorney for personalized legal advice and guidance.

A passenger who sustains a “serious injury” may have two different types of injury claims after a New York traffic accident: a “no-fault” claim, and a bodily injury claim against the at-fault driver. If you are injured, it is important to know the difference and to know if you are eligible to file a lawsuit for your bodily injury claim for your “serious injury.”

How Does a No-Fault Injury Claim Work?

New York operates under a no-fault automobile insurance law system, so if you are injured as a passenger, a no-fault claim should be made with the company that insures the vehicle in which you were riding, and a no-fault application should be completed and returned to that company ASAP.

There are very short time periods in which to complete the application to make sure you receive any no-fault benefits to which you may be entitled. Failure to timely complete and return the no-fault application can result in denial of no-fault benefits.

For you to receive no-fault benefits, you will not have to prove that a particular driver was negligent. You only have to prove that you were injured in the accident and not in another way at another time and place. That is one of several reasons why having a medical exam after a crash is so important.

What Are New York’s Auto Insurance Requirements?

If you are a passenger hurt in a motor vehicle accident, No-Fault benefits will be paid by the No-Fault insurance carrier for the vehicle in which you were riding – i.e. No-Fault will pay for medical expenses related to the injuries you sustained in the car accident, 80% of lost wages up to $2000 per month (up to 3 years after the accident) and $25.00 per day for miscellaneous expenses related to the accident for up to one year after the accident. The maximum amount payable depends on the policy coverage.

In New York State, drivers are required to have $50,000 minimum No-Fault benefits insurance coverage – No-Fault benefits are listed in the insurance policy as Personal Injury Protection (PIP).

The No-Fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage available through the insurance carrier for the vehicle in which the passenger was riding may be supplemented by the passenger’s own no-fault insurance if the passenger carries Additional Personal Injury Protection (APIP).

How Is a “Serious Injury” Defined?

Under New York’s No-Fault law, to obtain more than no-fault benefits, and file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver for an injury caused by a motor vehicle accident, the injury must meet the “serious injury” threshold established by New York law, by falling into one of the categories defined as a “serious injury” by the law.

There are some injuries that are clearly serious, such as death, or a fracture, loss of a limb or an eye, etc. An injury that prevents the injured person from working for 90 out of the first 180 days following the accident, or being otherwise fully disabled, is considered to be a “serious injury.”

A permanent loss of use of a bodily organ, function, member or system is also considered to be a “serious injury.” Non-permanent injuries must be “Significant” or “Consequential” and involve organs, members, functions or systems.

As a general proposition, the courts have held that any such injury has to have objective signs and symptoms, meaning something that can be seen on an X-ray or MRI, or determined using objective signs by any physician. Complaints of pain are simply not enough under the law.

How Can the Right Attorney Help You?

If you qualify to file a lawsuit for a “serious” injury”, you should be advised and represented by a New York traffic accident attorney who will fight for the maximum amount of compensation to which you are entitled that is available to you.

Without the right legal guidance, an injury victim could accept a settlement offer for an amount that’s far below what the victim’s “serious injury” is actually worth. Once a settlement is accepted, your right to take further legal action or to seek additional compensation is waived.

How Should You Handle the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company?

If you are in a car accident, do not make any statements to the at-fault driver’s insurance company, do not let that company take a recorded statement, do not sign any document for that company, and do not accept a quick settlement offer. Instead, hire a personal injury/car accident attorney and direct all of the company’s calls and inquiries to your personal injury attorney.

A good personal injury attorney will conduct an investigation of the accident: which will include examining the details of the crash, reviewing the crash evidence and medical evidence, and questioning the witnesses – and explain your legal options, and advocate aggressively and effectively for the just compensation that an injured victim of negligence is entitled to by law.

Most personal injury cases are settled privately and out-of-court. However, if a settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company cannot be negotiated, your lawyer will take your case to trial and ask a jury to return a verdict to fully compensate you.

Are There Any Ways That Passengers Can Protect Themselves?

One of the easiest things that a passenger can do to prevent a traffic accident is simply this: Don’t distract the driver. You can also enhance your safety as a passenger by:

  1. using the seat belt/harness every time you ride;
  2. never riding with an intoxicated driver or a driver under the influence of drugs or medication;
  3. manning the radio, GPS, air, and heat;
  4. saying something if you see a hazard before the driver does

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that using seat belts reduces fatalities for front-seat passengers by forty-five percent, and the Insurance Information Institute tells us that seat belts save about 15,000 lives every year in the U.S. In New York, seat belts are now mandatory for ALL car passengers.

It’s Up to You to Exercise Your Rights

Even if you take every possible precaution as a passenger, you may not be able to prevent an accident. If you are injured, a Rochester traffic accident attorney can help, but it is up to you to exercise your rights – and to contact that attorney as soon as possible after you’ve sought medical treatment or for injuries.