How to Prove Fault After a Traffic Accident
Sometimes, it's completely clear whose fault a car accident is. Other times, the blame gets a little tricky.
Determining car accident fault is an important part of the aftermath for liability reasons.
The main reason you need to know who is at fault after a car accident is to determine whose insurance pays for the accident. When both parties are insured, the insurance company of the person who is at fault typically covers the damages and injuries for the other party. Proving that the other person was at fault could mean your insurance company doesn't have to pay, which can help keep your insurance costs lower.
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Every state has different motor vehicle laws and insurance requirements. States that are known as “no-fault” states require drivers to have personal injury protection (PIP) as part of their vehicle coverage. Regardless of who caused the accident, each driver's PIP covers the injuries of everyone in that vehicle. PIP may also cover lost wages and other expenses related to injuries or death caused by an accident.
Even in no-fault states, drivers must seek payment from the at-fault party’s insurance company, because liability coverage covers damage based on who is at fault. For example, the liability coverage of a person who caused a rear-end crash in a no-fault state would cover the damage to the other vehicles or property involved. Drivers may be able to elect collision or uninsured driver coverage that would allow them to seek reimbursement from their own insurance company.
At-fault states require the person who is at fault to cover the financial burden of the accident. In other words, that person's insurance company will pay for both the injuries and damage that result from the accident. Comparative fault states assign a percentage of fault when both parties have some fault in the accident. Compensation can be adjusted based on that percentage.
The insurance company typically determines who is at fault in a car accident because it is deciding who will pay. Several things can go into deciding who is responsible for an accident. Below are some of those factors.
The drivers involved in the accident might admit fault at the scene of the accident. Be cautious about admitting that you caused an accident when it happens. Sometimes, you're still rattled after the accident, so you might not fully process what happened until later. If you realize something else affected what happened or another driver was more to blame, it can be difficult to overcome admitting fault.
If the police show up at the accident scene, they might take statements from all drivers who were involved. After the fact, the drivers will explain to their insurance companies how the accident happened. This information helps determine if one person was at fault or if more than one driver shared the fault.
However, drivers might not always tell the truth or include all the facts when talking to their insurance companies, especially if they're to blame. They might try to downplay their role in causing the accident. Insurance companies can look at other information to help make a decision.
Most states require you to call the police or file an accident report later if the accident causes a minimum amount of property damage or results in any injuries or deaths. The minimum threshold varies by state. It's always a good idea to call the police, even for a minor accident, to get a police report. If the police show up to the accident scene, they'll examine the situation, talk to people involved and write down the details of the accident. The insurance company can use the police report to help determine who is at fault.
If anyone else was around when the accident happened, they can share their perspective on the car accident. They might have noticed something that the drivers didn't that could help determine the cause of the accident. It's a good idea to talk to witnesses and get their contact information for your insurance company if possible.
Traffic cameras in the area might pick up the accident or details that could determine fault, such as a driver speeding or driving recklessly leading up to the accident. You can also take video footage and photos after the accident to potentially help determine what happened. The photos might show the positioning of the vehicles, which can help determine who was at fault, for example. Taking photos isn't always possible immediately if you need to move your vehicle out of the road.
The most important thing to do after a car accident is to ensure you and your passengers are safe. If possible, move out of traffic to a safer spot to avoid additional injuries. Then, focus on preserving evidence and protecting yourself. Do these three things:
- Contact the proper authorities to report the accident. If no one is injured, you can call the non-emergency police number rather than 911.
- Don’t admit fault at the scene of the accident, even if you think you're to blame. Give facts about what happened without actually saying that you're at fault.
- Collect evidence, including photos, license plate numbers, contact info for other involved parties and contact info for witnesses.
When you contact your insurance company to report the accident, give your side of the story. Provide them with the evidence you have along with the police report. This information helps your insurance company determine fault in the accident and decide if it will pay or push the other person's insurance to pay. You can also hire an attorney if working with your insurance company isn’t providing satisfactory results.
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