How Do I Know Who is At Fault in a Car Accident?

Car accidents are unfortunately all too common. There’s a decent chance that at some point, you’ll be involved in one yourself. While it may be impossible to fully prepare for such a traumatic incident, understanding how fault is determined can help you better understand your situation should you find yourself involved in a collision. Of course, determining fault in an accident is easier said than done. Let’s break down why fault matters and how you can determine which driver is to blame.

Why Fault Matters

In most states, auto insurance coverage is fault-based. This means that the at-fault driver’s insurance company will be the one responsible for medical bills, car repairs and other losses, like lost wages or pain and suffering. These payments are made through the at-fault driver’s liability coverage.

In no-fault states, though, drivers may be required to carry personal injury protection insurance coverage, also known as PIP. When an accident occurs, each driver’s insurance company pays for their medical expenses up to a certain limit. Property damage, however, is still fault-based in no-fault states. The at-fault driver’s insurance company will need to pay for car repairs.

Proving Fault

Every car accident is different, so there is no one size fits all formula for determining fault. With that said, there are a few procedures that are followed after just about every collision to help determine which driver is at fault. All drivers are encouraged to call the police after an accident to ensure a police report is filed. This first step helps guarantee that there is an official, unbiased record of the incident. Insurance companies use this report to better understand the accident and to get an idea of which driver was to blame. In a he-said, she-said scenario, a police report can trump all.

In addition to the police report, evidence gathered at the scene can help prove fault. Anyone involved in an accident should take photos, videos and interview witnesses when possible. While doing so, it’s important to never admit fault at the scene. Drivers should not lie about their role in a crash, and should report the facts of the incident to police. Still, people involved in a wreck shouldn’t jump to conclusions or apologize for things like slamming on their brakes. The true nature of an accident can be revealed in an investigation, but an apology from the mouth of one of the drivers involved can be enough to shift fault. Even if you believe you’re at fault, let the police and the insurance companies come to that conclusion independently.

Fault in a Rear End Collision

Picture this: you’re cruising along on the highway, following the speed limit and obeying traffic laws when the car in front of you slams on their brakes. You don’t have time to react, so you slam into the front cark, causing a rear end collision. Are you at fault? The answer might seem clear, but determining fault in a rear end crash isn’t always as straightforward as you might expect.

In general, fault for rear-end crashes often falls on the driver in back. All drivers have a duty of care to prevent accidents whenever possible. In this case, the driver would likely be found at fault for not providing enough following distance between their vehicle and the one ahead of them. On the other hand, an investigation into the incident might reveal that the car in front did not have working brake lights at the time of the accident. Such a revelation could mean that the fault falls to the vehicle in front.

Fault in a Chain Reaction Crash

Determining fault can become even more complicated when more than two cars are involved. For example, if Driver A hits driver B because they were following too closely, Driver C may also hit Driver A. In such a scenario, drivers A and C will likely share the majority of the fault because neither followed from a safe enough distance. Driver B may also be considered at fault if their behavior immediately before the collision was erratic.

In a chain reaction crash like this one, witness reports, photos and other forms of evidence are crucial in determining fault. When multiple parties are responsible for a collision like this one, the fault is often split between the insurance companies. In fact, you can be partially at fault for a crash and still collect damages from the other driver’s insurance company, depending on the incident.

Legal Liability

Generally speaking, the insurance company of the at-fault driver will be responsible for payment of medical bills, lost wages and car repairs associated with the crash. Depending on your state, though, comparative negligence may come into play. This allows drivers who are partially at-fault to seek damages in proportion to their degree of responsibility for the collision. For example, if you were involved in an accident in which you are 30 percent to blame, you may pursue compensation for up to 70 percent of your damages.

Comparative negligence isn’t created equal in all 50 states, though. If you live in a modified comparative negligence state like Illinois, for example, you’ll only be able to pursue damages if you’re found to be responsible for 50 percent or less of the damages. In contributory or pure contributory negligence states, an all-or-nothing attitude is taken regarding fault. If you were even 10 percent at fault for the accident, you will not be able to pursue compensation from the other driver’s insurance company.

Seeking Legal Advice

Most people involved in car accidents aren’t experts on fault, nor do they have much experience handling insurance claims. That’s why seeking out the advice of an experienced car accident attorney can be so valuable. Fault may seem obvious to you, but without the insight of a knowledgeable lawyer, you can be caught off-guard by accusations of fault. Even if you’re sure you understand how your accident happened and which driver is to blame, it’s worth speaking with an expert. Many car accident attorneys offer free consultations, so you owe it to yourself to gather all the information you can about your options. Get started today by checking out Lawsuit Info Center’s car accident settlement calculator.

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