How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

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Close to six million car accidents take place in the United States each year. And of those collisions, almost 90% of them had driver-related factors such as error, impairment, and distraction.

But determining who is at fault for a car accident is not clear cut.

Read on to learn how fault is determined in a car accident where you live.

Fault in Terms of a Car Accident

Determining who is at fault of a car accident may sound simple. But not all collisions are clear cut.

That’s why insurance companies dedicate whole departments to determining fault in car crashes. Yet, each insurer has its own standards for how they handle coverage and claims. Plus, each U.S. state has its own laws about how fault is determined and even about the definition of fault.

Let’s look at how your state affects your car accident.

No-Fault Vs Tort States

Insurance laws vary from state to state. There are both no-fault states and tort states.

In no-fault states, each driver will get coverage for car accident claims no matter which driver caused the collision. On the other hand, in tort states, insurance agents research the details of the car accident to figure out who is responsible. The company pays for damages based on who is at fault.

Most states in America are tort states. The no-coverage states include:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Utah

Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania give drivers a choice between tort or no-fault coverage. The rest of the states are tort states.

The Police Report

When someone reports a car accident to the police, officers are responsible for writing up a police report. Even if you or the other drivers report the car accident to your local departments, an officer will still complete a police report.

A police officer will interview drivers and witnesses about what happened. They will look at the scene of the car accident (if possible) and at the state of the cars involved.

Then the officer will piece together an accurate account of how to car accident occurred. This police report is submitted to their department.

Understand that a police officer might state who is at fault based on the officer’s judgment. But the police report could just as easily not state who is at fault. Even though a police officer may label one driver as at fault, that doesn’t automatically mean that the identified person is liable.

Likewise, if the police officer gives one or more drivers a ticket, that doesn’t mean that person is at fault. Yet, this traffic citation could be used as evidence that a particular driver was negligent.

How Insurance Companies Determine Fault

An insurance adjuster that has been assigned to your case will try to figure out who is at fault. He or she will look at the police report, assess the damages and gather information from all the people involved (including witnesses).

There isn’t a set of requirements to determine fault. So it is up to each insurance company to come up with their own system for determining fault.

If there is no clear way to determine fault, insurance companies will sometimes split the damages evenly.

Degree of Negligence

Negligence is defined as a breach of duty which contributed to the car accident. In other words, it means that one of the drivers failed to do (or not do) something that led to the accident.

This could mean failing to put on your indicator before changing lanes. Or texting and driving in states where it is illegal. It could even mean forgetting to wear your glasses if you use prescription glasses.

You need to prove the other driver was negligent in other to get reimbursed for damages.

Your state’s definition of negligence can impact how liable for damages you are. There are various types of negligence.

Comparative Negligence

This type of negligence looks at how at-fault each driver is by assigning percentages to each party.

Let’s say you were rear-ended after changing lanes. Both you and the other driver may be partially at fault.

You might be found 40% responsible and the other driver might be found 60% at fault. Or you may be both found 50% responsible. That means that you could sue to get compensated for the percentage of the other person’s culpability (60% in the first example).

This depends on the laws in place in your state.

Contributory Negligence

This system for determining fault follows an all-or-nothing methodology for recouping damages.

If you were found 10% at fault for a car accident, you would be unable to seek compensation. The only way to get compensation in this system is if you are 100% blameless.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Some states follow a modified form of comparative negligence.

This limits your ability to file a claim through the other driver’s insurance. In some states, you can only recoup losses if you are less than 50% at fault.

Confused? Talk to a Car Accident Attorney

If you aren’t sure who is at fault. Or if you want to contest your insurance company’s ruling, you need the help of an experienced car accident lawyer.

If you have been injured or need legal advice, a car accident injury attorney will walk you through the entire process. He or she can protect your rights and make sure that you are fairly compensated for your losses.

Contact a Walton and Telken attorney today and get a free case review.

Get in touch with us today to get started with your FREE case review. We’re only a call, click, or short drive away.

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