Each year, roughly half-a-million people are hospitalized due to vehicle crashes, and the wrecks cause more than $150 billion in medical and property-damage costs. If you were injured in an automobile, motorcycle, or truck accident that wasn't your fault, you may be able to sue the driver who caused the accident for compensation, or you may sue the vehicle maker if the vehicle was defective.

Your legal rights

Laws that define your rights in a vehicle crash vary from state to state, but most states allow you to file legal claims against the responsible people. You will need to prove the responsible driver operated the vehicle irresponsibly. Proving fault can be difficult sometimes, which is why the law has two different guidelines for awarding funds to the injured drivers: comparative negligence and contributory negligence. If several people caused the accident, in most states any one of them could be held responsible for compensating you for your injuries. If you were partly at fault in the accident, in many states you may still be able to get some compensation if the other driver was also partly to blame.

If you believe the accident was caused by a safety defect in your vehicle or the vehicle that hit you, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the vehicle manufacturer. For instance, SUV rollover accidents have been the subject of many lawsuits against auto manufacturers. Accidents also can be caused by faulty repairs or defective parts such as safety door locks.

You may win compensation for past and anticipated future physical pain, mental anguish or physical impairment, medical bills (both those you've already gotten and those you may get in the future), and loss of wages and wage-earning potential.

If you are injured

If you were injured in a vehicle crash, take these steps to preserve your rights:

  • Call the police to get a report filed documenting what happened.

  • Exchange insurance information with other drivers involved and get their driver's licenses and vehicle license numbers.

  • Talk to witnesses and get their contact information.

  • Notify your insurance company of the crash.

  • Photograph your vehicle, and obtain a property-damage estimate.

  • Keep records of the medical diagnosis of your injury and your medical bills.

Taking action

Your insurance company or the other driver's insurance company may offer you a settlement, but beware of early settlement offers, as the full extent of your injuries may not be known right away. Some companies will want to settle the case out of court by coming to an agreement with you regarding how much you should be paid to cover injury-related expenses. Consult an attorney to weigh whether a lawsuit or negotiated settlement might be the right course of action for you.

Additional resources:

Avvo's Car Accident Resource Center

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Motor Vehicle-Related Injuries

Vehicle-injuries.com: Legal Rights for Injured Persons

Related Legal Guides:

Getting Medical Coverage after an Auto Accident

Handling Vehicle Damage after an Auto Accident

Medical Lawsuit

Determining the Value of Your Personal Injury Case