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Personal Injury Claims for Passengers in North Carolina


Nearly all car accidents are caused by the negligence of one or more of the drivers involved. This is not always the case, of course. Sometimes “acts of god,” “sudden emergencies,” or unexpected vehicle component failures can be the primary cause for the wreck. In these circumstances, it is possible that none of the drivers involved or their automobile insurance companies will be held responsible. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases, one or more of the drivers involved will be found to be negligent. In those cases, it will be the responsibility of the at-fault driver’s automobile insurance company to pay for any resulting bodily injuries or property damage. Since a passenger is almost never to blame for an automobile collision, there will almost always be some type of automobile insurance coverage available to an injured passenger. Even so, there can be factors involved in passenger claims that can add layers of complexity requiring legal assistance.

Insurance Coverage for Passenger Claims

The first layer of insurance coverage for any injured North Carolina passenger is “liability” insurance. This is the automobile insurance that insures the at-fault drivers or the vehicles they are driving. One of the first issues that must be examined is whether only one driver was at-fault or both drivers were at-fault. With respect to insurance coverage, it is usually better for the passenger if there is a finding that both drivers were partially at-fault. That will increase the amount of available liability coverage if the injuries are significant enough to exceed the policy limits of one policy alone. Importantly, you should also always examine whether the drivers were driving their own vehicle or someone else’s. If the liable drivers were driving another person’s vehicle, the policy insuring the vehicle may be in addition to the policy insuring the driver (if he or she has one).

Finally, if the passenger’s injuries and damages exceed the amount of available liability coverage, he or she should examine the amount of available underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. This is coverage that typically would be found in the policy from the vehicle in which the passenger is riding, the passenger’s own automobile insurance policy, and any automobile insurance policy insuring a relative with whom the passenger resides. Determining the total amount of UIM coverage can be complicated, but is very important to making a complete recovery. This is especially true in cases involving wrongful death or serious or catastrophic injuries. Often times, UIM coverage will “kick-in” and provide access to settlement or verdict funds beyond the amount of the liability coverage.

Contributory Negligence in Passenger Claims

North Carolina has a harsh legal rule referred to as contributory negligence. This rule can be used as a complete bar to a personal injury recovery, including those on behalf of passengers. The way contributory negligence works is essentially that if the defense can prove the injured person was negligent and that such negligence was a “proximate cause” of the person’s injuries, then he or she cannot recover any verdict. While there are some exceptions to this rule, those may or may not apply in a passenger case and must be discussed with legal counsel. The most common type of passenger cases involving a contributory negligence issue are those where the passenger is riding with a drunk or drug impaired driver. There is case law holding that riding with a driver who the passenger knows to be drunk is contributorily negligence. These types of cases can be very complicated and passengers of drunk drivers who suffer serious injuries should almost always consult with an attorney, as insurance companies routinely deny these claims. They typically require significant litigation to recover a fair settlement or verdict.

Free Consultations and Contingency Fee Agreements

Maginnis Howard offers free consultations to passengers injured in North Carolina motor vehicle collisions. If need be, we can travel to meet with you to discuss your case. If we are able to assist with your case, we will do so on a contingency fee basis. This means that you will not owe any attorneys’ fees unless and until we obtain a verdict or settlement for you. We handle automobile crash cases throughout our state, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and all the areas in-between. To speak with us about your case, call us at (919) 526-0450 or send a confidential message through our contact page.