16 non-crash car injuries — and whether insurance covers them

When you think of the damage cars can inflict on people, traffic accidents probably leap to mind. Yet crashes are only one cause of car-related injuries.

In 2011 and 2012, an average of 647,000 people suffered non-crash car injuries each year, according to estimates from a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report.

Hurt by tire changeHere are the three most common injury causes cited in the report:

  • Being struck by a vehicle part, such as a door or trunk lid, or striking a vehicle (32 percent of all injuries reported)
  • Falls while entering or exiting vehicles (23 percent)
  • Overexertion, such as from unloading cargo from a trunk or the back of a pickup (11 percent)

Will your injuries be covered by your car insurance policy? The answer depends on what types of coverage you have and the nature of the incident.

Here are 16 ways your car can hurt you outside of a crash – and whether your injuries will be covered by your car insurance.

1. Slammed hand in car door

The NHTSA study found that an estimated 132,000 people per year are injured while closing a vehicle door. An estimated 2,000 people have a body part injured while closing a window.

If you slam a hand, finger or other body part in a closing car door or window, the injury should be covered if you have personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) coverage.

In general, PIP will cover bodily injuries that arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.  MedPay will typically cover injuries that occur while one is occupying a vehicle, which includes getting into and out of the vehicle.

Car insurance policies do vary, however, depending on state laws and your own car insurance company’s rules, so look for definitions of bodily injury under your PIP and MedPay coverage to determine what coverage you have.  Keep in mind, though, that if car insurance covers your injury, that coverage is normally primary while your health insurance is secondary.

2. Jumped or fell out of pickup truck bed

Jumping out of a pickup truck bed isn’t usually a great idea, especially if you land wrong and break your ankle or injure another body part.  However bad the idea, insurers still consider you a vehicle occupant, so PIP and medical payments would normally cover the injuries.

If you injure yourself when getting in or out of your truck bed, or just out of your sedan, you’re not alone. The NHTSA study estimates that an average of 147,000 people injure themselves each year entering or exiting a vehicle. 

If you weren’t trying to exit the truck but fell when sitting on the tailgate or took a misstep, your injuries should be covered by PIP or MedPay.  And don’t feel too embarrassed: The NHTSA estimates that falls from vehicles – including tumbles from hoods, trunks, roofs or tailgates – happen to about 38,000 people annually.

An additional 3,000 people are injured each year from falling inside of a vehicle, which also should be covered by PIP or MedPay. 

3. Overexerted while unloading cargo

Overexertion may show up on the NHTSA list as the third most common non-crash car injury, with an estimated 68,000 individuals complaining of it annually, but it is a stretch to get your car insurance to cover it.

Likely your auto insurance provider would say it was a self-inflicted injury that you could have prevented by pacing yourself and that it wasn’t directly related to the operation of your car – for instance, if you overexert yourself loading or unloading cargo from your vehicle.

However, if you overexert yourself pushing a disabled vehicle off the road, this may be covered by PIP since it could be seen as an unfortunate event arising out of the ownership and use of your vehicle.

4. Hit head on vehicle’s hood or trunk lid

If you bang your head so badly on a part of your car you need a doctor to look you over, your PIP coverage should cover your medical expenses.  The same would hold true if you didn’t secure your hood properly and it fell on your head as you were working in the engine compartment, since this pertains to the maintenance of your vehicle. 

MedPay might also cover both incidents, depending on whether your policy terms consider reaching in the trunk or looking under the hood as “occupying” the vehicle.  

The NHTSA estimates that 10,000 people each year are hurt by a trunk lid.  An estimated 5,000 people are injured each year by a vehicle’s hood.

5. Had foot run over

If you are a passenger who just got out of the car or were about to get in it when your foot was run over, then MedPay may cover your injuries.  PIP will cover you as the passenger, owner or relative of the car owner.

If you had no connection to the car that ran over your foot – say, you were just walking past it – then you should collect the owner’s car insurance information because you can make a claim against the owner’s bodily injury liability coverage.

6. Sustained an injury during carjacking

Having your car stolen is covered by comprehensive coverage, but what if you are physically injured as the thief takes your vehicle? 

The injuries you sustained may be covered by PIP or MedPay coverage, but insurance companies look at a multitude of factors, such as whether the injury took place inside or outside of the vehicle, the specific terms of your policy, state laws and the outcome of previous court cases.

Courts in both Florida and Washington have found that PIP should pay for bodily injuries resulting from acts of violence associated with the use of your car.

The Anti-Car Theft Act made carjacking a federal offense. If serious injuries occur during the carjacking, the culprit can get up to 25 years. If the victim dies from those injuries, the individual can be imprisoned for life or sentenced to death.

7. Kicked car, hurt foot

Whether you’re angry because your car needs repairs or because you’re upset that your girlfriend just broke up with you, if you injure yourself by kicking, hitting, punching or otherwise striking your car, you’re out of luck for coverage for your car’s damages or your injuries.

While acts of negligence and stupidity are typically covered by car insurance policies, intentional acts are not. So, instead of PIP or MedPay coming to your rescue, you’ll need to use your health insurance for any injury you sustain in this manner.

This might come as bad news to a lot of people: An estimated 55,000 people injure themselves this way each year.

8. Hit by a car part or foreign object while working on car

If your car insurance company’s definition of PIP covers bodily injury that arises out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, you should be covered if you’re hit by part of your car or a foreign object when working on your vehicle.  If you hire someone to work on your vehicle, he should be covered by worker’s comp if injured. 

The NHTSA study estimates that 16,000 individuals are harmed each year by foreign objects while working on their cars – think dropping a tool on yourself while working under the car.

9. Burned by battery acid

Tinkering with your car’s battery to make sure the cells are full or trying to jump-start a dead battery could result in battery-acid exposure if things go wrong.  However, your PIP should cover this type of incident. This holds true also for burns caused by removing a hot radiator cap or dealing with antifreeze, since it all has to do with the maintenance of your vehicle. Radiator or antifreeze burns injure 6,000 each year, according to NHTSA estimates.

Depending upon how your insurer views the maintenance of your vehicle, chemical burns from cleaning, painting or washing your vehicle may also be covered by PIP.  An estimated 1,000 people are injured this way each year.

10. Struck by a falling person

Though it’s not common, people sometimes literally fall out of the sky and onto a motor vehicle. In 2014, a San Francisco window washer fell 11 stories and bounced off a moving car.  While the driver wasn’t injured, if he or his passengers had been, PIP and MedPay would have covered the incident.

Without PIP or MedPay car insurance coverage, the car’s occupants could have put claims in with the window washer company’s liability coverage.

11. Tire or other object smashed into vehicle

If a foreign object smashes into or onto your car and causes you bodily injury, you can file a claim through your PIP or medical payments coverage.

The injury can be sustained by a piece of gravel that flies through an open window, an object falling off a truck bed, or even a lost tire careening wildly down the road, such as the one that caused considerable damage to a car in Los Angeles last year. Luckily, the driver sustained only minor injuries. The tire’s owner was never found, but if he had been, injury claims could have been placed through his vehicle’s bodily injury liability coverage.

The NHTSA study reports that an estimated 2,000 people complain of being injured by a foreign object while driving a vehicle each year.

12. Hurt while changing a tire

According to NHTSA’s estimates, about 9,000 motorists lacerate themselves each year while changing a tire. Injuries sustained while using a jack to change a tire, typically from the jack slipping or failing, happen to an estimated 3,000 people each year. Beyond this, an estimated 10,000 hurt themselves each year in other jack- or hoist-related incidents.

Since these tasks typically fall under ownership and maintenance of your vehicle, PIP should cover your resulting injuries in these cases. 

13. Burned by a muffler or exhaust pipe

If you or your passenger brushes up against your car’s hot muffler or exhaust pipe, any injuries should be covered by either PIP or medical payments. 

An estimated 1,000 people are injured by these types of burns each year, though other heat-related burns injure an additional 3,000 people, according to NHTSA estimates. 

14. Burned by a non-crash fire

If you’re inside a car that catches on fire and you get burned, PIP and medical payments will cover your injuries even if the fire didn’t start from a car crash. However, if your burns are quite severe and your PIP or MedPay limits are exceeded, you will have to look to your health insurance.

The NHTSA estimates that 2,000 people are hurt by non-crash vehicle fires each year.

15. Cut by car

Accidently cut your finger on your license plate, mirror, window or other sharp edges of your vehicle while driving or working on it?  Your PIP coverage should apply – unless you did the damage intentionally, like busting a window out of anger or to gain access to your locked vehicle.

The NHTSA estimates that 60,000 people a year cut themselves on a part of their vehicle. 

16. Poisoned by carbon monoxide

This colorless, odorless gas is present in car exhaust fumes, and inhaling too much of it can have consequences ranging from disorientation to death. An estimated 2,000 people suffer carbon monoxide poisoning from cars each year.

Assuming the exposure was encountered in normal use of your vehicle, PIP should cover the costs of treatment.

A good reason to check the fine print

It can be frustrating to suffer one of the mishaps above and find that your insurance won’t cover it. To ensure your insurance company offers the types of coverage you want, it’s important to review policy details carefully when you compare carriers.

You may never suffer any of the injuries above. But if you find that several companies offer very similar car insurance quotes, the fine print in those policies might make your decision a little clearer – particularly if you’ve ever been on the wrong end of a slamming car door.

Personal injury protection is required by law in Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon and Utah. Only Maine and New Hampshire require MedPay as part of your car insurance coverage.

PIP usually has a deductible – and the cost of treating a minor cut or burn might not reach that level. Choosing a higher deductible will lower your premiums, of course. MedPay usually does not have a deductible.

Most other states offer PIP and/or medical payment as optional coverages. If you don’t have health insurance, experts strongly recommend you carry PIP or MedPay so that you have access to health care when you need it most.

More from Penny Gusner here

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