In most Oregon automobile accidents, passengers will be able to recover for their injuries if they pursue claims. The reason is simple—it is highly unlikely that a passenger was a cause of the collision. The liable party is almost always the driver of one of the vehicles.
Certainly, this might not always be the case. One exception could be where a judge or jury, presented with two different versions of the accident, cannot determine which of them is correct. In that situation, a defense verdict is possible. In our experience, however, there is usually some evidence to tip the scales in favor of a passenger against one of the drivers.
It’s easy to imagine other scenarios where the passenger might be responsible for his own injuries, for example, where the passenger grabs the steering wheel and causes the collision. One situation that does sometimes arise is where the passenger knowingly gets into a car with a driver who has been drinking. The argument is that the passenger knew or should have known that the driver was drunk, and therefore the passenger was also negligent. These cases are very fact-dependent, and these defenses may not hold water for many reasons. In Oregon, implied assumption of the risk is barred by statute.
When a passenger is injured, claims will typically be made against both drivers and their insurance companies. If one of the insurance companies admits liability, then a claim (and recovery) may proceed against that company. However, if both insurance companies deny liability, a lawsuit will likely be filed against both drivers. The risk of filing against just one driver is that, at trial, they will point to the empty chair, and strenuously argue that the other driver caused the accident. By filing against both drivers simultaneously, a passenger has the best chance of recovery.
One complication is where the driver of the passenger’s vehicle is a friend or family member. Of course, it may be difficult to file a lawsuit against someone with a close relationship. However, any friends or close relatives should welcome the lawsuit, if it means that the passenger will recover for his injuries. These claims are paid by insurance, and the only significant consequence for the driver is that his insurance premiums may go up. Oftentimes, if liability is disputed, those premiums may stay the same.
If you were a passenger in an automobile collision, we can help you to decide what to do, and we can help to maximize your chance of an insurance settlement or verdict. You don’t have go through it alone. Please contact us at 1-541-617-0555, or fill out our internet contact form on the right side of the page.