How to Tell Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident
The reckless or negligent actions of one driver, referred to as the at-fault party or driver, cause most car collisions. When the at-fault driver’s insurance company doesn’t fairly settle a car accident claim, the victim often hires a car accident attorney to fight for the compensatory damages they deserve.
When the lawsuit is filed, the at-fault driver becomes the defendant, and the victim is the plaintiff. Proving your claim for damages rests on your car accident lawyer’s ability to prove that the other driver is at fault.
The courts aren’t the only entity determining fault in a car accident. Insurance adjusters and the police department where the accident occurred will also make a determination for their own purposes. Your car accident attorney may also conduct an independent investigation into the cause of the crash to protect your interests.
The Official Police Accident Report Can Prove Car Accident Fault
The first step after a car accident is usually calling the police. The responding officer completes an accident report containing the date, time, location, road conditions, and parties involved. They also interview witnesses to determine the cause of the wreck.
Many departments have a narrative space in the accident report where the officer will write down their judgment of what happened.
The accident report often lists who is at fault for the wreck. It’s important to note that not all accident reports contain a determination of fault. But the information in the report can be valuable for your car accident lawyer to build your case against the other driver.
Even in jurisdictions where a police accident report contains a determination of fault, this does not mean the at-fault driver will automatically be held legally responsible for the damages you suffered.
How Insurance Carriers Determine Fault in a Car Collision
Even if the other driver is clearly to blame for the accident and you plan to hire a car accident lawyer to pursue your claim with their insurance company, you must notify your insurance company of the collision. Once you file your personal injury claim, the insurance company assigns an adjuster.
The other party’s insurance company will also assign an adjuster to the claim. Although an insurance adjuster will investigate the accident and settle the claim, insurance adjusters also work for the carrier, and their interests typically align with those of the insurance company—to minimize any claims or deny them outright.
The insurance adjuster researches the accident by:
- Speaking with witnesses
- Examining medical reports
- Inspecting each vehicle’s damage
- Verifying the details about each party’s insurance policy
The insurance adjusters come to a conclusion about fault after the accident and assign a degree of fault to each driver. Often, this is expressed as a percentage. Then, the insurance company indemnifies the drivers involved based on the percentage.
Fault in the accident is determined based on the legal definition of negligence in the state in which the accident occurred. Negligence typically means that a driver failed in the standard duty of care to operate the vehicle and therefore caused the accident.
How Your State’s Court Determines Fault After a Car Accident
Your car accident attorney will file a suit with the county civil court. It’s the job of a judge to rule on fault for the accident and therefore, liability. The court’s ruling of liability will determine which party wins the lawsuit—you or the defendant.
If your case cannot be settled in mediation (a negotiation between your car accident lawyer and the other party and their attorney), it will proceed to court. Each party presents evidence to argue their case, including witness testimony, physical evidence such as car damage, or photos and videos of the collision and aftermath.
You and any passengers may need to testify in the case. Sometimes, your attorney may also have expert witnesses for your case, including an accident reconstructionist or doctors who testify about the cause of your injuries and their impact on your life.
The judge (in a bench trial) or the jury (in a jury trial) will determine who was to blame in the accident, and this decision will determine whether you win your lawsuit against the other driver.
What Evidence Can Prove Fault in a Car Accident?
Collecting evidence is a critical part of your car accident attorney’s job. The more documentation you have from the wreck, the better. Right afterward, jot down everything you recall about the events leading up to the crash. Did the other driver run a red light? Did you have the right-of-way when turning? Anything you can remember makes your lawyer’s job easier.
Your lawyer may use evidence of:
- Property damage: You should take photos of your car or videos of the damage
- Proof of your injuries: You may be required to submit your medical records from post-accident treatment
- Photos or traffic camera footage: There could be traffic cam footage of the wreck, or a store may have CCTV footage available
- Forensic analysis: This includes accident reconstruction or expert testimony about how the collision occurred
The crux of your car accident lawsuit is ensuring you receive fair compensation for your losses, including covering your medical costs and property damage. Often, the question of whether the car accident caused your injuries is raised, so the medical reports from EMS are critical to proving that the car collision caused your injuries.
Any post-accident care should also be covered, such as any surgeries or physical therapy you need to recover. Make sure to keep these records, too, so your car accident lawyer can properly value your claim.
Do You Need Representation After a Car Accident?
If you have been hurt in a car accident, you may not receive a fair settlement from the other party’s insurance company. They may deny or minimize your claim. But a New London personal injury law firm‘s attorney can tenaciously negotiate for you and build your case for damages.