How Much Money Can a Passenger in a Car Accident Recover?

December 5, 2023 | David Abels
How Much Money Can a Passenger in a Car Accident Recover?

Depending on who is at fault in an accident, you might be reluctant to sue, particularly if you were a passenger in the car of a friend or family member who caused the accident. If you get into an accident while riding in a car with a friend or relative (other than a household member), you can sue to recover damages for your injuries.

Your friend or relative does not pay for your injuries and losses if they were at fault. Instead, their insurance company pays. Even if you have to go to court because the insurance company denies your claim or offers an inadequate settlement amount, your friend or relative is not likely to pay out of pocket.

The person at fault for the crash may have insurance coverage to cover you. Never pay for your medical bills and other losses if you were a blameless passenger. Seek legal advice to discuss your options with a Chicago car accident lawyer.

Illinois Accident Statistics for Passengers

Illinois roads have many accident risks, including distracted drivers, aggressive drivers, stop-and-go traffic, speeding drivers, impaired drivers, and more:

  • Of the 311,679 accidents in Illinois in one recent year, 93,517 people sustained injuries, and 12,003 people suffered incapacitating injuries.
  • 1,090 suffered fatal injuries, of which 213 were passengers in motor vehicles.
  • 23,840 passengers sustained injuries, while 61,514 drivers suffered from injuries in an accident. Of the passengers who sustained injuries, 2,703 suffered incapacitating injuries.
  • Nationwide, passengers represented 63 percent of motor vehicle crash fatalities in one year.

Drivers and passengers are in similar positions during a crash. Both can hit their heads, twist their joints and soft tissue, and suffer other circumstances due to an impact that causes serious injuries. Whether you are a passenger on Lake Shore Drive, the Dan Ryan Expressway, or streets in the suburbs, there is a chance you can sustain life-changing injuries if an accident occurs.

Common Injuries That Car Passengers Suffer

As a passenger, you can suffer severe injuries in a car accident.

Some of the most common injuries that passengers suffer are:

Depending on the injury and its severity, a passenger can face significant bills and pain and suffering due to no fault of their own. Because of this, passengers in a motor vehicle accident can seek compensation for their damages.

#1. Traumatic brain injuries

A traumatic brain injury (also called a TBI) is any injury to the brain when the head strikes something, or an object penetrates the skull. Head injuries are common in car accidents because of how the body and head are thrown around during a collision. During an accident, it's not uncommon for the head to strike the side or front of the vehicle's interior. A head injury can also occur without direct impact when the force created during the collision causes the brain to move inside the skull.

TBIs can significantly affect one's quality of life. They may require intense medical treatment, can cause lifelong cognitive and physical impairments, and can severely strain a sufferer's finances.

#2. Spinal cord and back injuries

Spinal cord injuries are also common in motor vehicle accidents because of the force exerted on the body during impact. These injuries refer to damage to the bones or nerves that make up the spine.

Injuries to the back and spine can result in everything from a mild pain that heals on its own to permanent and life-changing paralysis.

Spinal cord injuries, especially paralysis, can significantly affect a person's life. They may cause the injury victim to miss work, rack up medical bills, and endure pain and suffering. A paralyzed accident victim may find themselves forced to rethink their career, family life, and how they do daily tasks. Partial or complete paralysis will completely disrupt a person's entire life.

#3. Internal injuries

Internal injuries are some of the most severe consequences of trauma caused by a car accident. Common internal injuries include internal bleeding and damage to internal organs resulting from trauma. But internal injuries can also occur without apparent symptoms, leading to delayed treatment or severe complications.

Internal injuries may result from blunt trauma, which occurs when a part of the body collides with something else. They may also occur due to penetrating trauma when an object pierces the body and damages blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs.

No matter how internal injuries occur, they are serious injuries that negatively affect accident victims.

#4. Neck and shoulder injuries

Pain in the upper body, especially the neck and shoulders, is a common complaint of car accident victims. That’s because how we sit in cars and seat belts cross the chest causes a significant force on the neck and shoulder areas.

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries associated with car accidents. This injury can lead to chronic pain, which affects a person for the rest of their life. This may mean not staying in the same career or not caring for your family in the same way. Whiplash can cause significant life changes though some call it a "minor" injury.

#5. Paralysis

Paralysis often occurs because of damage to the spinal cord. However, it may also occur because of damage to the brain.

Paralysis can occur in many different forms. Some forms of paralysis cause a person to lose just their ability to grip, while others destroy a person's sensory abilities and motion of all four limbs (called quadriplegia). The fact is that any paralysis can change someone’s life since they have to relearn how to move, speak, and carry out everyday tasks.

#6. Simple and compound fractures

Fractured bones in the arms and legs are common injuries caused by car accidents. There are two types of fractures we commonly see in car accident victims: simple and compound.

Simple fractures cause the bone to crack without the bone piercing the skin. These are usually easily repaired. Compound fractures completely break the bone and can often cause the bone to pierce through the skin. Compound breaks can also cause other complications, like infections and damaged nerves. They may also require multiple surgeries to repair, which creates additional costs for the injury victim.

#7. Sprains, strains, pulled muscles, and other soft tissue injuries

Even appropriately treated soft tissue injuries such as sprains, strains, pulled muscles, and torn ligaments can result in chronic pain. Depending on the soft tissue injury, a victim can require physical therapy, medications, injections, and other costly and time-consuming treatments.

#8. Wrongful Death

​Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

In severe collisions, the driver or passenger may not survive. Death can occur at the point of impact or later due to complications from injuries sustained.

Some severe injuries are fatal even with the best medical treatment. It can be frustrating and devastating when a loved one dies in a car accident due to negligence. And although money cannot solve everything, a wrongful death claim can at least prevent a tragic situation from becoming a financial burden.

Protections Designed to Keep Passengers Safe

Technology designed to keep drivers and passengers safe continues to advance with every new car model. Features like automatic braking, blind-spot alerts, lane departure warnings, and even self-driving cars are helping to prevent collisions from happening in the first place. And when a collision inevitably occurs, other technologies step in to minimize injury.

Even with these features, the passenger is still the most vulnerable person in the car. Studies have shown that accidents are more likely to injure or kill passengers. Some theories include that a driver's natural inclination is to protect themselves and that safety features are more focused on the driver's safety.

Vehicles contain several airbags and safety features to protect passengers, including:

  • A front passenger airbag in the dashboard
  • Driver and front passenger knee airbags
  • Seat-mounted and roof-mounted airbags in the front and rear for the outboard passenger seats
  • Alerts that let you know when someone is too light (or too young) to be riding in the passenger seat
  • Advanced seatbelts
  • Shatter-resistant glass
  • Specially designed and positioned seats to minimize injury.

Even with these protections, passengers can still suffer life-changing injuries in a crash.

Does Insurance Cover Injured Passengers?

If you are riding in a vehicle that caused an accident, your lawyer will contact that driver’s insurance company to make a claim. If the driver is a spouse or another family member of your household in Illinois, you can still sue the driver's insurance company. You can sue the driver's insurance company if a friend or relative drove.

If someone else causes the accident, your lawyer will contact that driver's insurance company. Furthermore, if more than one driver is at fault, including the driver of the vehicle you are riding in, you may file claims with the insurance companies of all at-fault drivers.

Passengers can recover the same damages as a driver that suffers injuries in a car wreck, including special, general, and punitive damages. To do so, they must take proper action against the correct parties. Always do this with help from a car accident lawyer.

You want a car accident attorney to handle all insurance claims and communications. Even though an insurance company should cover passenger injuries, injured parties regularly struggle to receive the compensation they deserve. Having a lawyer handling your claim from the beginning will signal to the insurance companies that you plan to fight for full financial recovery, and it prevents mistakes that can jeopardize your claim.

Compensation for Injured Passengers

Injured passengers can seek compensation for any damages they suffered because of the accident. This is true regardless of who caused the accident since the passenger in a vehicle typically cannot be at fault. A car accident attorney can fight for your rights if you suffer an injury while a passenger.

We list some of the most common damages below.

Special Damages

Economic damages, also known as special damages, involve expenses that an injured individual has had to pay out-of-pocket, including:

  • Past medical costs incurred because of the accident.
  • Future medical expenses for follow-up appointments and additional surgeries
  • Past and future therapy expenses for physical therapy, cognitive therapy, and/or psychological therapy
  • Past lost wages for the time you missed from work because of your initial injuries.
  • Future lost wages for the time you will miss from work because of the injuries, surgeries, or long-term or permanent injuries.
  • Replacement or repair of personal property
  • Burial and funeral expenses

General Damages

Non-economic damages, also known as general damages, are those that do not have a price tag, including:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of companionship
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of use of a body part or function

Punitive Damages

Courts order general and special damages to make injured individuals whole again. Punitive damages do not make individuals whole again but punish a defendant's grossly negligent or intentional behavior if that behavior caused your injuries. A jury might find the defendant grossly negligent if they drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs, texted while driving, or, in some cases, sped excessively.

Wrongful Death Damages

If your loved one dies in a car accident caused by negligence, you can recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Damages from a wrongful death stem from the bills the deceased left behind, how much they suffered, and how much their direct family members suffered after their death.

Some common damages for a wrongful death claim include:

  • Funeral costs
  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages (yours and theirs)
  • Loss of consortium (the legal term for the loss of your spouse’s intimacy)
  • Loss of companionship
  • Pain and suffering (yours and theirs)

Whether you suffered injuries as a passenger or lost a close family member who was a car passenger in a crash, the amount you can recover will depend on your circumstances. These include the severity of the injuries, the cost of treatment, any lasting effects, or whether an injury was fatal.

Knowing even a ballpark figure can be challenging without having a car accident lawyer assess your situation, what happened, and your specific losses. Never wait to learn whether you can recover financially from your losses and how much you might expect.

Who Is Liable for an Injured Passenger’s Losses?

For a passenger to obtain compensation for their injuries and losses, they must identify who was responsible for causing the accident. Many parties might cause crashes, and multiple parties might share liability. Your insurance claims will depend on your lawyer identifying the negligent parties.

The Driver of Your Vehicle

Sometimes, the person driving the vehicle in which you are a passenger causes the crash. This is likely someone you know, such as a family member, friend, or coworker. While it might feel uncomfortable to file a claim against someone close to you, you will file the lawsuit against their insurance, not the individual. The driver should not have to pay out of pocket for your losses, as their policy should cover everything up to their policy limits.

Another Driver

Other drivers can be negligent and hit the car you are riding in, causing you injuries as a passenger. In this situation, the negligent driver’s insurance should cover your losses. If you suffered injuries in a multi-vehicle pile-up, more than one other driver might share responsibility, leading to multiple insurance claims.


There are many situations when companies can have liability for passenger injuries from a crash.

These include:

  • If the driver was a rideshare driver and had an active fare, Uber or Lyft should provide coverage for injuries and losses.
  • If the driver was on the job when they caused the crash, you could hold their employer strictly liable for any resulting losses.
  • Trucking companies negligent in maintenance, hiring, or other matters.
  • Repair shops that conduct faulty work can be liable if it leads a driver to crash.
  • Car or truck manufacturers if a defective auto part caused the accident and injuries.

When a company is liable, it can provide higher insurance policy limits, which gives you a better chance of recovering compensation for the full amount of your losses. Always have a lawyer determine all liable parties and go up against consumer and corporate insurance companies for you.

Time Limits on Car Accident Claims

Dave Abels Personal Injury Lawyer
Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer, Dave Abels

In most cases, you have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, if a passenger is under 18, they must file the lawsuit two years after their 18th birthday. If the claim is only for property damage, you must file in five years under Illinois’s statute of limitations.

A one-year statute of limitations applies to certain defendants, like municipalities, so consult an accident lawyer as soon as possible after a collision.

Some insurance companies attempt to require that you file an uninsured or underinsured claim much sooner than that. The time frame depends on the insurance company's policy, so filing a claim within a few days of the accident is advisable. If you contact your insurance company, tell the representative that you were in an accident and give the representative the other party's contact and policy information and your attorney's contact information. However, always let your lawyer contact the insurance carriers instead of doing so yourself.

Because insurance companies look for any reason to deny a claim or offer the least compensation possible, let your attorney talk to the adjuster. Otherwise, the insurance company will try to twist your words to lay the fault on you. Should you decide to take your case to court, the insurance company may also attempt to use your words to sway the jury.

If You Suffered Injuries as a Passenger in a Crash, Contact a Car Accident Law Firm

If you suffered injuries from a motor vehicle accident while you were the passenger, you might deserve compensation for your damages. A free consultation with a Chicago personal injury lawyer can answer your questions and help you decide whether you have a viable case. The sooner you take action, the better protected you will be from the insurance companies and the loss of your rights. Contact a car accident attorney right away for a free consultation.

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David Abels


David Abels has carved a niche for himself in the personal injury law sector, dedicating a substantial part of his career since 1997 to representing victims of various accidents. With a law practice that spans over two decades, his expertise has been consistently recognized within the legal community.

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