While common, car accidents can be extremely stressful, especially when it comes to figuring out who is at fault and liable for damages. In 2021, motor vehicle injury costs totaled up to an estimated $498.3 billion. If you were involved in a car accident caused by someone else, the liable party should have to pay for your medical bills and other losses.
Determining who is at fault for a car accident is a critical step in the process of filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. In some accidents, it may be obvious who is to blame, while it may be unclear in others.
Things can get especially complicated when insurance companies try to blame the other parties involved in the accident to reduce how much money they have to pay.
Fault vs. No-Fault States
Fault refers to the party that caused the auto accident. In some states, like Georgia, when a car accident occurs one party is considered to be “at fault” and is required to cover the damages of the other driver and passengers.
In “no-fault” states, damages are covered by each driver’s personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy instead of the at-fault party’s insurance coverage.
In some situations, more than one person may be at fault for the car accident. For example, if one driver was speeding but the other was texting, both drivers involved may be apportioned a degree of fault. Also, in case of a truck accident, multiple parties may be at fault (i.e. the trucking company, the cargo loading company, etc.). The state’s negligence laws will determine the amount of damages awarded to each party.
Who Determines Fault Following a Car Accident?
Unless the negligent driver admits fault, someone must determine fault, or who is to blame for a car accident. As the driver, you have your own version of how the collision occurred, and so does the other driver. You may believe strongly that you are not at fault, but the other party may also firmly feel that they are not to blame.
For this reason, it is not left up to drivers to decide who caused the car accident. Typically, insurance companies decide fault on behalf of those they insure. When insurance companies and the parties involved in the collision can’t agree, personal injury lawyers, judges, and juries may eventually make the final decision.
Police Officers Do Not Determine Fault
In most areas, it is a legal requirement to contact local law enforcement if your car accident resulted in injuries or extensive property damage. While a police officer can play an important role in providing information to determine fault, an officer does not decide who is at fault.
Police officers may provide accurate and helpful information, such as:
- Reports on whether the drivers were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash
- Interviews from the drivers and any eyewitnesses to the car accident
- Facts about road and weather conditions and other relevant information
- Opinions on whether a driver was speeding, driving distracted, or disobeying any other traffic laws
The police report may be used as evidence to establish facts during negotiations with the car insurance company. If a car accident case ends up going to court, the police officer may be asked to provide testimony about driver impairment, physical evidence observed at the crash site, or other information.
Ultimately, fault is a legal conclusion that is not made by police officers.
Insurance Companies Make an Initial Determination of Fault
After reporting your accident to your car insurance company, they will assign an adjuster to look into the case. The adjuster will conduct an investigation into the incident and make a determination of who is at fault. In some situations, the investigation may be minimal, while other accidents may require a more comprehensive investigation.
After finishing the investigation and reviewing the details of your insurance policy, your car insurance company will let you know whether they intend to pay your liability claim.
The evidence reviewed when determining fault includes:
- Reviewing the police report
- Getting witness statements
- Visiting the scene of the accident
- Taking into consideration the weather conditions
- Looking for street or dash cam video footage of the car accident
- Considering the driver’s statements
- Hiring accident reconstructionists
- Analyzing the damage done to the vehicles
What Insurance Companies Are Looking for When Examining Evidence
Once the insurance adjuster completes an investigation of a car accident, he will examine the evidence and make a determination of fault based on the following elements of negligence:
- Duty of care: Did the driver have an obligation to stop, slow down, yield, etc.?
- Breach of duty: Did the driver breach the duty of care by disobeying traffic signs, signals, or laws?
- Proximate cause: Were the driver’s actions the cause of the motor vehicle accident?
- Damages: Were the injuries and property damage a direct result of the collision?
If the insurance company determines that their client’s actions did cause the car accident, then they will pay damages based on the limits of the policy. However, if the car insurance company decides that their client was not to blame for the crash, they will deny liability.
If you disagree with the decision of fault, you should consult a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced attorney may know of additional options available to you.
You Don’t Have to Let the Insurance Company Have the Final Word
When fault is determined by an insurance company and they deny your auto accident claim, it is only final if you accept their decision. If you and the insurer cannot come to an agreement about who is at fault, you should consider hiring a personal injury lawyer to represent you.
Most car accident lawyers offer free case consultations. A legal representative will listen to your version of events, conduct an independent evaluation, and determine whether you have a claim to compensation.
How a Car Accident Attorney Can Help You Recover Damages
If your car accident lawyer does not agree with the insurance company, he will inform you of your other options for resolving your case.
Your car accident attorney may use the following means to resolve your car accident case:
- Negotiation with the insurance company: Your lawyer will investigate your accident and the injuries you sustained. The information gathered will then be presented to the insurer and used to negotiate a settlement.
- Filing a lawsuit: One way to let car insurance companies know you are serious about recovering compensation is to file a lawsuit. Since going to court is often expensive and time-consuming, the threat of a lawsuit may force the insurance company to settle your claim.
- Alternative dispute resolution (ADR): This term refers to the ways people can resolve disputes without a trial. Common ADR processes include mediation, arbitration, and neutral evaluation. Using these processes, your attorney may be able to resolve your car accident case without going to court.
- Going to trial: If all other means of settling your car accident claim have failed, your lawyer will present your case in court before a judge and/or jury. Your lawyer will present your case along with the collected evidence and the judge or jury will have the final say in determining fault and damages owed.
Steps You Can Take to Help Prove Fault After a Car Accident
As a car accident victim, there are steps you can take to help prove who was at fault among the drivers involved. Beginning immediately after the collision occurred, you can watch what you do or say, to help determine the outcome of your claim.
- Take photos: If possible, use your smartphone to get photographic evidence of skid marks, traffic signals, debris, weather conditions, property damage, and anything relevant to the case.
- Identify eyewitnesses: If there were witnesses to the car accident, get their contact information and try to get a statement from them using the voice recorder app on your phone.
- Do not admit fault: If you admit fault, this could become relevant evidence in identifying the party legally responsible for your accident. Try not to apologize at the accident scene; even a simple “I’m sorry” could be seen as an admission of guilt.
- Obtain copies of the police report: If an officer was sent to the scene of the car accident, he would have made an official report of the incident. You should ask for a copy of the report because it could be used as evidence when filing your claim.
- See a doctor as soon as possible: Seeking medical treatment will provide a documentation trail of your injuries, proving that they are a direct result of the car accident. Your injuries may even indicate how badly your vehicle was hit and from what direction.
Who Is at Fault for Rear-End Collisions?
Typically, if a vehicle gets hit from behind, the rear driver is the at-fault party. The reason for this is because traffic laws require drivers to maintain a certain distance from any leading vehicle. If there is sufficient space cushion, the driver would have time to stop even if the vehicle in front slowed down or stopped suddenly.
However, there are some exceptions to this. In some situations, the driver in front is at fault for the auto accident – not the driver in the back.
Potential situations where the driver in front is to blame for the collision include:
- Brake check accidents: When a driver intentionally brakes hard, this is a form of aggressive driving that can lead to a rear-end collision.
- Failure to signal: Turn signals warn drivers around you of your intent to change lanes or turn. The rear driver may not be at fault if the front driver failed to signal.
- Broken brake lights: The brake lights on a vehicle tell the driver behind you when you brake. If the brake lights on a vehicle are broken, the front driver could be liable for a rear-end accident.
- Backing up accidents: These types of accidents are most common in parking lots. If a driver backs into a vehicle, the front driver is most likely going to be found at fault.
Determining Fault for Left-Hand Turn Accidents
Another common rule when determining fault is that when a driver making a left turn hits someone in oncoming traffic, the driver making the turn is usually at fault.
The reason for this is because the driver in oncoming traffic has the right of way. The driver executing the turn should wait until he can do so safely.
However, there are other factors to take into consideration when assigning fault. For example, if the oncoming driver was speeding or ran a traffic signal, he could be found fully or partially liable.
Contact Our Car Accident Lawyers for Help Proving Fault
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, don’t try to handle the claim on your own. Insurance companies may outright deny your claim or try to get you to settle for far less than you deserve. Recovering compensation after a crash is much easier with a personal injury lawyer, with knowledge and experience backing them, guiding you through the claims process.
Hoffspiegel Law accepts car accident cases on a contingency fee basis. This means you pay no upfront costs or fees. We only get paid if you receive a settlement or award.
Our law firm offers all potential clients a free consultation. Contact us today at (404) 760-8600, or click the Contact Us button to get started. You may be surprised by the peace of mind that comes with having a dedicated, knowledgeable advocate on your side.