Can Passengers Claim Whiplash After an Accident?

Lever & Ecker, PLLC July 30, 2019 Car Accidents

Insurance companies are nothing if not good at PR. Through years of television ads and media campaigns, they’ve convinced the public that they are good neighbors, holding your hand and standing by your side when accidents happen. (Alas, when accidents actually do happen, they might start singing a different tune.)

One of the insurance industry’s biggest targets over the years: whiplash. It’s a common injury, and insurers have had to pay out a lot of money to whiplash victims. For that reason, we’ve seen a lot of anti-whiplash messaging. As a result, many people now have the idea that whiplash is an “illegitimate” or “less serious” injury. But that isn’t the case.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a soft tissue injury after an auto accident in New York, you might be wondering, “Can I claim whiplash as a passenger?”

As it happens, the answer to that question is fundamentally the same as it would be if we were talking about any other injury. Long story short, that answer is yes. But there’s a lot to know about claiming whiplash as a passenger, and the laws in New York work a little differently than in most states. Let’s take a look.

Whiplash Is the Most Common Car Accident Injury… and Can Be Very Serious.

Whiplash happens when the force of impact in a car crash causes the head and neck to quickly “whip” back and forth. It can happen in just a few seconds and at speeds as low as 5 miles per hour. But the effects can last for weeks, months, or even years.

In fact, according to a peer-reviewed 2001 scientific study published in medical journal Neurology, nearly 8% of auto accident whiplash victims are unable to return to their normal activity levels more than a year after the accident.

Whiplash can cause a wide range of chronic and acute symptoms, including:

  • Severe pain and soreness
  • Headache
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Emotional distress and/or depression

The anatomy of the human neck is complex; it is not built to withstand forceful impact. The fragile soft tissue and skeletal structure within is easily injured, and those injuries may be slow to heal. Some people never fully recover.

Moreover, whiplash can cause a traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a concussion. TBI may occur when the whip-like motion of the head and neck causes the brain to move about inside the skull, potentially bruising the brain tissue and leading to an array of cognitive issues or other problems.

Can I Claim Whiplash as a Passenger?

Passengers generally have the same rights to financial compensation after a New York auto accident as anyone else. As with most auto accident claims, passengers must typically look to one or more insurance companies to recover the compensation they deserve.

A Passenger’s Right to Claiming Compensation for a NY Car Crash: In A Nutshell

Whose insurance policy covers you as a passenger? The answer to that question requires a bit of explaining, thanks to New York’s no-fault insurance rules. We break it down in a broad overview below.

You typically begin by filing a no-fault insurance claim under the policy for the vehicle you were riding in.

  • As a general rule, this is your first and only option for seeking compensation in New York.
  • Unfortunately, the policy will only pay you up to the coverage limits, and it will not pay you one penny for your emotional pain and suffering.
  • If other people in the car were injured, you will typically all have to share from the same insurance policy.
  • This same general rule applies if you are named as an insured party on the relevant insurance policy.
  • However, there are exceptions to this general rule, as we will see below.
  • While recovery under a no-fault insurance claim is more limited than in a traditional personal injury lawsuit, an experienced New York auto accident lawyer can still fight to maximize your compensation.

You might also be eligible to have the insurance policy pay for your medical bills as they come in.

  • If you have your own car insurance policy and it includes “Medical Payments” coverage (i.e. MedPay), it will cover your medical bills as they come in. This way, you don’t have to deal with your doctors sending your bills to a collections agency while you wait for the underlying insurance claim to resolve.
  • Generally speaking, MedPay does cover medical bills for whiplash as a passenger (though some exceptions may apply — check your policy for limitations and exclusions).
  • If the insurance policy for the vehicle you were riding in includes MedPay coverage, you might be covered under that MedPay provision as well.
  • However, it is generally a good idea to submit your medical bills to your health insurance carrier first. Then seek payment for any non-covered services (as well as your copays and deductibles) from MedPay.

 If you are seriously injured, you may be able to bypass the no-fault insurance rules.

  • Depending on the nature of your injuries, you might be able to “step outside” of New York’s no-fault car insurance system.
  • In this case, you will be able to seek a claim directly against the at-fault driver(s) and their insurance policies.
  • Your claim against the at-fault driver(s) can include pain and suffering damages.
  • It’s important to work with an experienced New York auto accident attorney.

If a third party caused your whiplash, you won’t be limited by New York’s no-fault car insurance rules.

  • In this case, you can pursue a claim or lawsuit directly against a third party.
  • A personal injury claim against a third party (non-driver) can include damages for pain and suffering.
  • Examples might include: claims against the vehicle manufacturer, claims against the government for dangerous road conditions, etc.

The rules for truck accidents are different.

  • If you were involved in an accident with a large commercial vehicle or semi-truck and have suffered whiplash as a passenger, you may be able to pursue a personal injury claim against the trucking company and its liability insurance carrier.

If there is no insurance, you might still have options.

  • You might have Uninsured Motorist Coverage under your own car insurance policy.
  • You might have a third-party negligence or product liability claim.
  • You might be able to pursue a lawsuit directly against the individual driver(s).
  • You might be eligible for benefits under New York’s Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC).
  • You should talk with an experienced New York auto accident lawyer to understand any options you might have.

The foregoing is offered only as a general guideline. Insurance matters are inherently complex, and no two situations are quite alike. While this information can help you get a sense of the process from a big-picture perspective, it is critical that you consult an experienced attorney before making any decisions that might affect your legal rights.

How Much Money Can I Claim for Whiplash as a Passenger?

Every case of whiplash is different. The amount of compensation available to you will depend on the nature of your injuries and the value of any other damages associated with your claim.

Some whiplash claims involve substantial financial damages. This may include compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, property damages, and so on. To learn more about the compensation you can claim for whiplash as a passenger, call the NYC & White Plains auto accident lawyers at Lever & Ecker, PLLC.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation with our Manhattan & White Plains Auto Accident Lawyers

If you have suffered whiplash as a passenger in New York, no matter what the circumstances may be, we encourage you to contact our office to discuss your situation. Please never make assumptions about your rights, duties, or options until you consult an experienced attorney.

Lever & Ecker, PLLC is a New York personal injury firm with years of experience in helping auto accident victims and their families claim the financial justice they deserve.

For accident victims, we typically offer a free initial consultation, and if we take your case, we will not charge a fee for our services unless and until we get you money.

Time limits do apply to New York auto accident claims, so please don’t delay. To get started, call (914) 288-9191 in White Plains, or simply contact us online.