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I Was a Passenger in a Car Accident – What Are My Rights in North Carolina?

In 2021, North Carolina’s roads and highways saw more than a quarter of a million car accidents. Speeding, distracted driving, and drunk driving all contribute heavily to these high rates of crashes.

With those kinds of numbers, every time you climb into a car represents a potential risk of injury. If you’ve suffered an injury in a car crash, then you have the right to file a claim and potentially recover compensation for your medical expenses and other damages – and that’s true for vehicle passengers just as much as for drivers.

Who Is at Fault When I’m Injured in a Car Crash as a Passenger?

Different states handle car crash liability in different ways. North Carolina applies a rule called contributory negligence. This rule says that if an injured car crash victim played any role in causing the crash – even if they were only 1 percent at fault and the other person was 99 percent at fault – then in most situations, the victim can’t recover financial compensation from a personal injury claim.

If this rule sounds harsh, it is. North Carolina’s contributory negligence rule makes personal injury cases in our state more challenging to handle and win.

However, when you’re a passenger in a car and you suffer injuries in a crash, it’s much harder (but not impossible) for the insurance company to show that you were partially at fault for the collision.

Examples where a passenger might be partially at fault for a crash include:

  • They knowingly got into a vehicle with someone who was either impaired by alcohol or drugs or was otherwise not in a condition to drive safely
  • They impeded the drive’s ability to safely operate the vehicle (for example, by grabbing the wheel or distracting the driver)

Passengers who are not at fault in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of which driver is responsible — or even if both drivers were partially at fault — have the right in North Carolina to seek compensation for injuries suffered in a car accident.

RELATED: What Are the Worst Car Crash Injuries That Might Need Legal Help?

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Critical Steps to Take as a Passenger after a Car Accident

A woman standing by a desk and having back pain from being a passenger in a crash

In the immediate aftermath of a crash and the days that follow, you can strengthen your legal case by following a few tips.

  1. Call the police before leaving the scene if you are able. After a car accident, you need to make sure to call the police and have them investigate the wreck. You need documentation of what occurred and to get the insurance information for each of the cars involved. After the wreck, get a copy of the police report. This official document can serve as a valuable resource when determining who is at fault for your injuries. If you’re not sure how to get a police report, your attorney can help.
  2. Seek medical attention right away if you have any sign of injury. You should always get medical care after a car crash if you have any sign of injury—even if you think you’re not severely injured and don’t need to go to a hospital. Sometimes adrenaline after a crash can mask pain and serious injuries. Visit an emergency room, urgent care, or your primary care doctor as soon as possible. Keep track of how you feel and immediately communicate any pain or new symptoms you experience in the days following the accident. If a healthcare provider recommends follow-up treatment or refers you to a specialist, then follow all instructions, keep all appointments, and continue to communicate any changes in your health.
  3. Don’t talk to anyone from the insurance company without consulting an attorney. An adjuster or examiner from the insurance company is not your friend and isn’t there to help, no matter what they say. They will use anything you tell them to hurt your case in any way they can. Remember that the insurance company only has one goal: to pay you as little money as possible.
  4. Do not admit fault to anyone. Even if you think your actions somehow contributed to the crash, don’t ever say that you somehow played a role in causing the collision. Car crash cases are complex, and there may have been factors you could never know about that contributed to or even completely caused the accident. Maybe you think you somehow distracted the driver of your vehicle – but a forensic investigation could show that the other driver caused the crash, and your vehicle had no chance to avoid it. Let your attorney investigate the case and figure out who is at fault.
  5. Take notes about everything you see and hear. Sometimes it’s harder to recall details after the fact. As soon as you can, jot down all the specifics about who was involved in the collision, where and when it happened, who did what leading up to the crash, who else may have witnessed the accident, and who said what about the event. Details about the crash scene, weather conditions, and anything else you can remember may help as well. Any information you can recall is worth sharing with your lawyer (not with the insurance company!).

RELATED: Compensation Explained: What Can I Receive From My Injury Case?

How Does Insurance Coverage Work for Injured Passengers in North Carolina?

A person with an arm injury writing notes after being injured as a passenger in an accident

There are three types of primary insurance coverage that tend to come into play when you file a personal injury claim in North Carolina:

  • North Carolina law says that all drivers must carry bodily injury coverage with minimum policy limits of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per vehicle. Some drivers may carry coverage with higher policy limits.
  • In addition, all auto insurance policies in North Carolina must include uninsured motorist coverage (UM), which kicks in when you get injured by a driver who fails to carry car insurance.
  • Drivers can also buy additional insurance known as underinsured motorist coverage (UIM), which helps bridge the gap when the at-fault driver’s insurance isn’t sufficient to cover damages.

When a person is driving a car in North Carolina, that person’s UM/UIM insurance covers not only them but also their passengers as well. And in addition to the driver’s coverage, your own UM/UIM insurance coverage can also “stack” with the driver’s coverage and cover you as a passenger (but only after the driver’s UM/UIM coverage has already paid out for the crash up to the policy limits).

So, to sum up, when you’re injured as a passenger in a crash, you may be able to file insurance claims based on:

  • The at-fault driver’s liability coverage
  • UM or UIM coverage held by the driver of the vehicle you were riding in
  • Your own UM or UIM coverage

RELATED: Do I Have to Pay My Own Medical Bills After a Car Crash?

What if a Friend or Family Member Was Driving the Car? Do I Have to File a Lawsuit Against Them?

A woman making a phone call to a personal injury attorney after being injured in a car accident

Sometimes, injured passengers hesitate to file claims because a friend or family member was driving the car. If you’re worried about causing trouble for someone you care about by filing a claim, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A personal injury claim is a civil claim for monetary compensation only. When you file a personal injury claim, there’s no risk of your friend or family member being charged with a crime, getting arrested or imprisoned, receiving a criminal record, being sentenced to community service or probation, or paying fines. Those are all potential outcomes in a criminal proceeding, which is completely separate from a personal injury claim.
  • Your family member or friend might not be at fault. As we mentioned earlier, car accidents are complex, and figuring out who is at fault takes experience and detailed investigation. Even if you think your friend or family member caused the crash in some way, it could turn out that the other driver was entirely responsible.
  • The insurance company, not the at-fault individual, generally pays damages from a personal injury claim. If the at-fault person had auto insurance, then the insurance company is responsible for paying any damages up to the policy limits. And as described in the previous section on insurance, relevant UM/UIM coverage can also kick in and provide compensation up to policy limits. All of this compensation will come from the insurance company’s funds, not the pockets (or assets) of your friend or family member.

RELATED: 8 Things You Should Never Do After an Auto Accident

Injured as a Passenger in a North Carolina Car Accident? Call Myers Law Firm for Help

If you’ve been in an accident and are trying to determine whether to file a lawsuit, contact Myers Law Firm. We’ll provide a free consultation where we can learn about your case and help you determine your next steps.

Our team of personal injury lawyers has over 60 years of combined experience serving the injured in North Carolina, and we’re here to support you. We know the process from beginning to end, and we fight tirelessly for victims.

Call us at 888-376-2889 or use our contact form to schedule your free consultation.


North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. (2022). North Carolina 2021 Crash Facts. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/references/examples/report-government-agency-references


The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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