Proving Fault in a Car Accident
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Proving who's at fault for a car accident is crucial; after all, the at-fault party's car insurance company generally is responsible for paying damages to the injured party.
Read on for information on who's responsible for proving fault, the various processes used, and how each state's laws and insurance requirements play a role in determining responsibilities.
Generally, it's up to the insurance companies to determine fault for a car accident, and they do so with the help of claims adjusters and situations often referred to as no-doubt liability.
After you file a car accident report with your insurance provider, the company assigns you a claims adjuster.
Ultimately, your claims adjuster's job is to determine who is at fault for the car crash. This is done—often with help from a team of other professionals—by reviewing all available car accident evidence.* Such evidence ranges from police reports and witness testimonies to medical records and photos of the accident scene.
For more information about how to gather and secure accident data, refer to our guide on Preserving Evidence in an Auto Accident.
* NOTE: Because your claims adjuster reviews all available evidence, it's crucial you do not admit fault for the accident. For example, sometimes it's easy to apologize to the other driver after a car crash. Even if you're simply concerned and trying to be polite, this behavior can be interpreted as an admission of guilt; your claims adjuster will take it into serious consideration.
The term “no-doubt liability" refers to certain types of accidents that are almost always the other driver's fault. No-doubt liability accidents are nearly impossible to argue against and usually result in a quick settlement for the victims.
Below are a few common examples of no-fault liability car accidents.
Unless your own carelessness contributed to the collision (for example, your car's brake lights or turn signals were out), it's almost always the other driver's fault for hitting you from behind.
If you're driving straight and a car from the opposite direction makes a left turn, causing an accident, it's nearly always that driver's fault unless he or she can prove:
- You were driving above the speed limit.
- You drove through a red light.
- The other driver was making an otherwise legal left turn, but something unexpected caused him or her to slow down mid-turn, leading to the accident.
DUI Car Crashes
It's illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state, and on top of all the other punishments you'll face if you do, you'll also be found at fault for causing a car accident.
State Laws & Negligence Definitions
When determining who's at fault for a car accident, generally claims adjusters look at the state's traffic laws and interpretation of negligence.
State Traffic Laws
Claims adjusters and car accident attorneys definitely come in handy regarding interpreting state traffic laws; however, you can read up on them yourself via your state's driver handbook and vehicle code.
Naturally, proving negligence is a big part of determining who was at fault for the car crash.
While state traffic laws are fairly cut-and-dried, negligence definitions can be a bit trickier; fortunately, your claims adjuster and car accident lawyer are familiar with your state's laws regarding negligence.
Below, we've highlighted some of the most common types of negligence explanations that states often use, but understand that not all states use each (or maybe any) of these types of negligence. You'll find out from your car insurance company and any car accident attorney you employ.
Simply put, comparative negligence is a term states use to define your percentage of fault compared to the other party's percentage of fault.
Comparative negligence allows you to seek damages that line up with your percentage of fault for the car crash.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Modified comparative negligence is similar to regular comparative negligence in that you're allowed to seek damages from the other party's insurance provider based on your percentage of fault; however, modified comparative negligence generally limits those damages based on your percentage of fault.
For contributory negligence to kick in, you must be completely blameless for the car accident. It's that simple.
No-Fault Car Insurance
Most commonly, the at-fault party's car insurance company pays for damages caused by the company's policyholder, via that policyholder's traditional liability insurance policy.
However, some states utilize no-fault car insurance (also called personal injury protection (PIP) insurance), usually in addition to liability insurance.
With no-fault insurance, each party's insurance company pays for its own policyholder's bodily injury damages, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
Of course, this doesn't mean the at-fault party (and his or her insurance company) is completely detached from the other party. For example, if you're not at fault and your injuries exceed your own PIP coverage, the at-fault party's insurance provider might be required to pay for additional costs via the policyholder's liability insurance.
When proving fault for a car accident, it's important to understand whether your state is a no-fault state and how that applies to who's at fault—and who pays—for car crash damages.