We do not sue your friend: In a personal injury claim, we seek damages from the insurance company, not your friend. That’s what they have insurance for.
Your friend wants you to get better: A personal injury claim is how you get your life back on track. You don’t have to choose between feeling whole and keeping your friendship.
We get one question a lot when talking with people thinking about filing a personal injury claim: What if you know the driver who caused the accident?
“I was a passenger in my friend’s car when I was hurt in an accident. Is it somehow dishonest to sue my friend? Will I be a bad friend if I try? Will this harm my friend or my friendship in any way?”
Just because you weren’t driving the vehicle doesn’t mean that your injuries are any less severe or the damages you have suffered are any less worthy of compensation. But your passenger status may mean you don’t know where to go from here or who to seek compensation from, and how getting the money you deserve could affect the driver.
It’s no surprise that passengers are often friends with their drivers. Friends go places together. They pick each other up or drop each other off. But sometimes during joy rides or errands, they have the misfortune of being part of a collision, and while that can change everything, it shouldn’t have to end a friendship.
As a passenger, you have the right to sue a driver for the injuries you suffered in a car accident. As a friend, you should know that the lawsuit won’t hurt the driver’s personal finances and, depending on the circumstances; you might not even be accusing your friend of doing anything wrong.
Accidents happen. And when they do, the consequences can be serious. You might not blame your friend for causing your accident, he or she may be completely innocent or have done everything possible to avoid the collision, but your lawsuit is separate from how you feel personally about your friend or even about the crash.
You need to consider suing the driver, even if that driver is a friend or relative, if:
It’s particularly important to explore the option of suing a friend if you don’t own a car or live with a family member who does. New Jersey is a no-fault state when it comes to car accidents, which means that your own auto insurance pays your medical bills in the event of an accident no matter who is at fault. Even if you are a passenger in someone else’s car, it’s assumed that your medical bills will be paid by your auto insurance company. If you have no car, you don’t have an auto insurance policy to cover you. That means you may be unable to get the medical care you need to get better.
Suing your friend may be your only option to get your life back on track, but don’t think of it as a “you vs. them” situation. Your friend bought auto insurance for this exact purpose: to cover the costs in case of an accident. Your friend already paid for the coverage. Filing a claim or lawsuit is simply how the process of using those benefits works. It doesn’t cost your friend anything when you seek compensation from their auto insurer.
The insurance industry benefits from people feeling reluctant to pursue lawsuits for perfectly legitimate reasons. That’s the reason there’s so much misinformation about lawsuits out there, to discourage people with real losses from moving forward with a claim. The truth is that no one likes a frivolous lawsuit, especially attorneys, who just want to get real cases resolved without the court system being bogged down by trivial matters. But to suggest that it’s in any way wrong for an injured person to try to get the compensation they’re entitled to because the policyholder happens to be a friend of theirs is unacceptable.
Don’t be fooled by these common misconceptions about what happens when you have to sue a friend or relative.
You have the legal right to sue a friend, but it can be hard to feel comfortable doing so. You don’t want to harm your friend or lose your friendship, but not suing may not be an option if your injuries are severe.
Let us ease your conscience, and maybe your friend’s worries, too. There is nothing unethical about you pursuing a claim against someone you care about, and doing so doesn’t make you a bad friend. It just makes you a person who needs compensation for the very real damages you have suffered. Depending on the situation (if you’re going through UM/UIM coverage, for example), you may not even be accusing your friend of causing the accident. Also if your friend was at fault, you’re not saying that he or she is a bad person because of the mistake.
Further, even though your friend is personally named in the lawsuit, it’s not like you’re literally taking money from his or her wallet or bank account. Your friend has auto insurance for a reason, to protect his or her family from the financial repercussions of an accident. In the instance of a covered event, the insurance company has a duty to pay claims up to the agreed-upon coverage limits.
Law firms like ours never go after individuals, so you don’t have to worry. The worst that will happen to your friend is the possibility of insurance rates increasing, and that could happen whether or not you pursue a claim if the collision was considered a chargeable accident or if your friend got a ticket for a traffic violation.
If there are situations in which it’s necessary to sue a friend, what about suing a family member? Whether or not you can sue can vary from one circumstance to another, because it depends on the relationship and living situation.
What does this mean? Auto insurance policies cover policyholders and their resident relatives, or family members who live with them. If the driver whose car you were a passenger in is also your resident relative, then you won’t be able to file a lawsuit against that driver because you are also covered by that policy. (You can still sue another driver involved in the collision, and you can get benefits including medical bill coverage through your resident relative’s policy.)
However, if the family member who was driving at the time of the accident does not live with you, you can still file a lawsuit. You can sue a close relative like a parent, adult child, or sibling provided that you don’t live with that person. You can also sue a significant other if you are not legally married and are not on an auto insurance policy together. As far as more extended family, you can file a lawsuit against a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin or another relative, provided you do not live with the relative.
There’s often an impression that suing a family member, like suing a friend, is somehow out of line. Remember, if you have to sue a family member for an accident, you’re not asking your relative to personally pay for your damages, forcing them to hire a lawyer to defend them, or raising their insurance premiums. You’re simply using the benefits they already paid for, benefits that they bought for a situation just like this.
What if you’re on the flip side of this situation? You’re probably wondering what happens if someone sues you after a car accident.
You might have mixed feelings about your friend suing you. After all, you didn’t mean for the crash to happen. You may have done everything you could to get out of the path of danger.
On the other hand, friends don’t let friends suffer needlessly. And you know that your friend who was in the passenger seat is hurting now. You’ve seen how much this injury is affecting your friend’s life. The last thing you want is to know that injury continues to keep your friend down.
Your auto insurance coverage is the key to your friend getting better. These benefits which you have already paid for, anyway, can help your friend:
As far as how being sued will affect you, don’t worry. Your auto insurance company must protect you. That’s what you purchased insurance for in the first place, and your insurer is contractually obligated to handle this situation.
What about your insurance premiums? Insurers may raise their rates if you had a chargeable accident, but whether or not your passenger files a claim has nothing to do with that increase. With or without a claim, your insurer can raise your rates if it views the crash as being your fault.
When your friend is an injured passenger, try to remember how the legal process works. Encourage your friend to do what is needed to get better, and explore whether seeking money under your insurance coverage is one of those things. An accident can change a lot of things, but your friendship shouldn’t be one of them.
If you’re worried about suing a friend, it can help to understand how the claims process works. What’s the difference between a claim and a lawsuit? What can you sue someone for? When you sue someone, where does the money come from?
In a typical accident, the person who is not at fault will seek compensation from the negligent party, the one that caused the accident. This may or may not mean a lawsuit.
What happens first is that a personal injury attorney will submit a claim to the at-fault party’s insurance company on behalf of the injured victim. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sue that person. Sometimes the lawyer and the insurance adjuster can reach a settlement before a lawsuit is ever even filed.
If the insurer is cooperative and willing to work with your attorney to negotiate a settlement that fully compensates you for the harm you suffered, we attempt to settle the case as early as possible once you have finished your medical treatment. Settling a case without having to sue can help you get your money faster and incur fewer legal costs, but it’s not always an option. However, sometimes insurance adjusters would rather let the matter escalate than agree to give you the money you’re entitled to.
If a lawsuit is necessary, the driver is personally named in the suit. But his or her insurance company has a legal obligation to defend him or her. The insurance company provides a lawyer for your friend at no charge to the policyholder. Once a settlement, arbitration award, or jury verdict is reached, the insurer, not your friend, must pay that amount up to the individual’s policy limits. The insurance company also has a duty to try to resolve the case within the policy limits to protect its policyholder.
When you file a lawsuit or a claim, you’re seeking compensation for what we call damages. Damages refer to the harms or losses you have suffered. Your damages can be financial, like medical bills and lost wages; physical, like your injuries; and non-economic, like the pain and suffering you experienced because of the crash.
When our car accident attorneys handle a case like yours, our goal is to get you maximum compensation. That means seeking a settlement or jury award that fully covers all of your damages. Keep in mind, though, that your friend is not the one paying. The cost of compensating you is the insurance company’s responsibility. Rest assured that we’ll seek to get you every dollar you deserve up to the policy limits without trying to get any money from your friend personally.
A car accident is virtually never the fault of the passengers. Assuming you didn’t forcibly cover the driver’s eyes while the car was in motion, the accident simply isn’t your fault. But is it the other driver’s fault? Your friend’s fault? A combination?
When a passenger pursues a claim, it’s possible that both drivers involved will be named as defendants to make sure that the victim isn’t missing out on the compensation he or she is entitled to pursue. Sometimes only the other driver’s insurance company ends up paying anything. Other times, the friend is found negligent. If the claim can be settled early on in the process, it’s possible that the passenger will never have to actually sue his or her friend at all.
Still other times, the passenger can seek compensation from any uninsured/underinsured motorist’s (UM/UIM) coverage on the friend’s policy even if the other driver was at fault. In this instance, you’re not claiming in any way that your friend is to blame for the crash. Your friend’s insurance policy is simply standing in for the other driver’s nonexistent or inadequate insurance coverage.
If you were injured in a car accident, you want to get better. You want to put your life back together. We can help. We’ll take care of everything involving your personal injury claim so that you can focus on what’s important, your recovery.
Remember, just because it’s called a personal injury claim doesn’t mean that suing a driver who is your friend is a personal attack. In fact, we often hear this question from the opposite point of view, that of the driver, concerned about making sure his or her friend can get the compensation they need, asking, should my friend sue me?
Your friend doesn’t want to see you living with chronic pain and drowning in medical bills just to get the treatment you need. No friend would want to see you, someone they care about, choose between preserving the friendship and putting food on the table for your family. Sometimes suing and collecting compensation from that friend’s insurance company is the only way to get the compensation you deserve after an accident.
Call us today and have your claim reviewed by a car accident attorney. We’ll review your accident and answer your questions at no cost. If you let us file a personal injury claim on your behalf, you’ll pay nothing out of pocket until we win. Filing a claim won’t hurt your friendship. Don’t let your accident keep you from getting your life back on track.
This article was professionally reviewed by Richard P Console Jr, an attorney licensed to practice in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Console has more than twenty-five years of experience practicing personal injury law and successfully resolving vehicle accident claims on behalf of his clients.
While this information was reviewed for accuracy, it should not be considered legal advice. Every claim is different. If you are thinking of pursuing a personal injury claim and have a question, contact us directly.