With very few exceptions, a passenger can’t be held responsible for an auto accident.
So if you’ve been injured as a passenger in New York, there’s good news: someone else is most likely responsible for your damages.
But who? Where do you turn? Are passengers covered by car insurance in New York?
It’s a complicated question. Let’s walk through the answer together — in general terms — below.
New York Is a No-Fault Insurance State
Unlike many other states, New York uses a system called no-fault car insurance. In our state, after an auto accident, each driver’s auto insurance policy will cover their own personal injury damages (but not pain and suffering), regardless of who caused the crash.
The same no-fault rule applies to injured passengers too. In the next few sections, we’ll look at how that rule applies in various situations.
Passengers in New York Must Make a No-Fault Claim Under the Policy for the Vehicle They Were Riding In
Let’s begin with the general rule. If you are injured as a passenger, you will file a no-fault car insurance claim against the insurance policy that covers the vehicle you were riding in.
So if your friend is driving you around town and gets into an accident, you will need to file a claim under your friend’s auto insurance policy — regardless of whether that friend caused the crash.
If the driver is a family member, both of you might be insured under the same auto policy. Here again, that policy will cover your personal injury damages (up to policy limits) regardless of who was at fault. Unfortunately, though, the policy will not pay you for pain and suffering.
If Multiple Passengers Are Injured, They Will All Have to Share in the Recovery from the Insurance Policy
New York enacted the no-fault car insurance rule with the hopes of reducing the amount of auto accident litigation. Unfortunately, the rule also makes it harder for accident victims to get the compensation they need in certain situations.
Case in point: what if you are riding in an SUV with a total of seven people inside? The driver is required by law to carry basic Personal Injury Protection (PIP) car insurance, which will cover the driver and all the passengers.
But what if the driver bought the bare-minimum insurance? Chances are high that it won’t be enough to cover all seven accident victims. In fact, even if the driver bought an above-average PIP policy, it still may not be enough to cover all the passengers.
This is sometimes a problem even when there are only one or two people injured in the accident.
The insurance company won’t pay out one penny beyond policy limits. As a general rule, the injured passengers must split the recovery between them (apportioned according to the severity of their injuries). But as we will see, there are exceptions.
If There Are Serious Injuries, the Passenger Can Also Make a Fault-Based Claim Against the At-Fault Driver(s) Directly
If you suffer a “serious injury” as a passenger in New York, you will be able to step outside the no-fault car insurance rule, meaning you would then be able to file a fault-based lawsuit directly against the at-fault party.
Your lawsuit could claim both property damages and personal injury damages, including pain and suffering.
Determining whether an injury qualifies as “serious” under New York’s no-fault rules can be complicated. Talk to an experienced car accident lawyer to determine whether you might have a claim against the negligent driver.
The Passenger May Also Be Able to Make a Claim Under His or Her Own Auto Insurance Policy (Even If It Wasn’t Their Car That Crashed)
So far, we have talked about the passenger’s claim against the car owner’s insurance company. But sometimes, there’s more than one answer to the question of “are passengers covered by car insurance?”
Let’s imagine that Sam gets into a crash while driving his friend Gerald around town. Liza, the other driver, was speeding and is responsible for causing the crash. Gerald suffers serious injuries. What are Gerald’s options?
- As the injured passenger, Gerald can file a no-fault claim under Sam’s auto insurance policy to cover his personal injuries (subject to Sam’s policy limits).
- Since his injuries were serious, Gerald can also file a lawsuit against Liza and her insurance company for any of his personal injury damages that exceed Sam’s policy limits. He can also claim pain and suffering damages against Liza.
- If Gerald has his own auto insurance policy, he may also be able to file a claim under that policy. If that policy includes Medical Payments (“MedPay”) coverage, it will pay for Gerald’s medical bills as they come in. This is important because Gerald’s doctors might not be willing to wait for his claims against Sam’s insurance and Liza’s insurance to resolve.
- If Gerald and Sam are related and insured under the same policy, Gerald may also be able to benefit from Sam’s MedPay coverage.
What If There Isn’t Enough Insurance Coverage (or No Insurance Coverage at All)?
What happens if you suffer serious injuries but neither the passenger nor the drivers have enough car insurance to cover all the damages?
Unfortunately, a significant number of New Yorkers break the law by driving without car insurance. Many more meet their legal requirements but just barely, carrying only minimal coverage.
Your options in this situation will depend on the facts and circumstances of the accident:
- You may, for example, have a claim against a third party.
- Or, if the drivers don’t have insurance but you do, you might be able to recover under an Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Coverage policy.
- If the responsible drivers have enough personal assets to cover your damages, you might also choose to pursue a lawsuit against them directly.
- Finally, you may qualify for benefits through the State of New York’s Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC). Qualifying for MVAIC coverage is a complex topic, and navigating that system can be challenging. If you have questions about filing a claim with MVAIC as an injured passenger in New York, contact a Kingston auto accident lawyer at O’Connor and Partners.
Bottom Line: Are Passengers Covered by Car Insurance? Yes. But Insurance Claims Get Complicated Quickly.
There’s a lot to know about your rights, options, and limitations after being injured as a passenger in New York. Don’t make assumptions about your insurance coverage. Talk to an experienced attorney instead.
Free & Confidential Consultation with an Auto Accident Lawyer
O’Connor and Partners is a Kingston auto accident law firm that fights hard to maximize compensation for injured drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and family members throughout New York.
If you choose to hire us after your consultation, we will not charge you a fee unless we get you money first.
If you can’t come to us, we will come to you. Just contact us online or call 845-303-8777 to talk with an experienced Kingston auto accident lawyer today.