Frequently Asked Questions - Who Determines Fault In An Accident?
When you are involved in an auto accident, sometimes it is not so cut and dry as to who should be deemed at fault. There are many different scenarios in which accidents occur and it is not always just one driver who is found to be the negligent cause of the accident. After an accident occurs, you should always call the police right away, even if you think you are at fault for the accident. Without a crash report, accidents can be quite messy and it involves a lot of time and headaches for you and the insurance companies. If the police are involved immediately, they can determine what happened to cause the accident by interviewing all parties involved and any independent witnesses who may have seen the accident happen. Independent witnesses are extremely helpful in determining who is at fault for an accident as they have no bias to either party and insurance adjusters rely on them heavily when the parties involved in the accident are unable to agree on how the accident happened. The police officer who arrives at the scene will take detailed notes and fill out forms in order for them to create the crash report which states their account of the crash, what they noticed at the scene, who said or did what, how the vehicles were positioned when they arrived on the scene and they will take down any independent witness statements and get their contact information in case the insurance companies would like to reach out to them to make their own statements.
Without a crash report, the insurance companies can only rely on what each party states happened in the accident. If the parties cannot agree on how the accident happened, the insurance adjuster will come to their own conclusion and usually will side with their insured after taking recorded statements of all parties involved in the accident. Insurance companies suggest you do not admit fault at the scene of the accident. This is because if you admit fault and the police officer notates that in your crash report, there is no way to go back and amend the crash report after the fact if you decide you were not in fact at fault. After an accident, some people are shaken and nervous and apologize to the other party, even if they are not at fault, but in some instances that can be construed as you accepting blame for the accident.
If you are involved in an auto accident and believe you are not at fault but the police officer cannot determine who was at fault when they arrive on the scene, they will notate the crash report to reflect that they were unable to determine who was at fault for the accident. In that case, the adjusters again have to determine fault by taking recorded statements of each party in the accident. The insurance company will also send out a field adjuster to take pictures and inspect all vehicles involved in the crash. The damage to each vehicle can sometimes be a good determination of how the accident occurred by where the damage is located.
If you are involved in an accident where you and the other driver are deemed to both be at fault, this is called comparative negligence. This means that you and the other driver both caused an action that resulted in the crash. An example of this is if you pull out into traffic making a right-hand turn at a red light and collide with an oncoming vehicle but that vehicle was speeding way over the speed limit, this can sometimes be considered comparative negligence. You were at fault for pulling into traffic in the path of an oncoming vehicle, but the other vehicle should have maintained a safe speed in order to apply their brakes and give them time to slow down. If the insurance company decides that your accident is a comparative negligence claim, the insurance companies will determine what percentage each party is responsible for and the only payout that percentage of the claim. If you and the other driver are deemed 50% responsible for the accident, the insurance company will only pay half of your claim. The insurance company will assess the damage to your vehicle and calculate the difference based on the percentage you are deemed at fault for and that will determine how much money you are paid for your vehicle damages. This is the same for any bodily injury claims you may have. If you bring a bodily injury claim against an insurance company but you are deemed to be 50% at fault for that accident, they will only pay out half of what they would normally have been obligated to pay, had you not have been found partially at fault for the accident.
If you believe you have been found to be at fault for an accident or partially at fault, it is always wise to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney who can fight for you. Sometimes this may result in having to file an actual lawsuit against the insurance company and take them to trial so you and your claim can be heard in front of a jury. The jury will hear each aspect of the case and they will determine who they believe is at fault for the accident and if you should be awarded a judgment for your injuries.
If you have been deemed at fault or even partially at fault, your insurance company must assign a defense attorney to defend you if a lawsuit is brought against you, per the terms of your policy. Typically if you are at fault or partially at fault, the insurance company and the other party can work it out mutually; however, in times where the other party files a lawsuit, you will be defended by the insurance company’s attorney who they assign to you. The attorney will explain your rights to you and will do everything they can to minimize the claim and defend you to the best of their ability.