When you have been involved in a car accident, your first priority should, of course, be your well-being and the health of any others in your vehicle at the time of the crash. With the stress and anxiety caused by a crash, you may be unclear at the time of the incident just who was at fault for the accident. This can be particularly true in car accidents where both parties were moving at the time of the crash or when multiple cars are involved. Sorting all this out can be difficult, but it is important, as the person responsible for the accident will usually be the one to bear all of the costs related to the accident.
But how is it determined who is at fault, and what does “fault” mean, exactly?
What Does It Mean to Be at Fault for a Car Accident?
Automobile insurance adjustors are directly involved in determining fault in a car accident. In most states, auto insurance works on a fault basis—that is, the driver who is found to be at fault will be responsible for bearing costs related to the accident, including damage to any/all vehicles involved, damage to property, medical expenses, pain and suffering costs, and even lost wages for those impacted by the crash.
Certain states have “no-fault” insurance, meaning property damage is still handled on a fault basis, but medical costs are borne by each party’s insurance company regardless of who is at fault, through “personal injury protection” insurance.
Regardless of whether you are in a no-fault state or not, the party who is determined to be at fault in a car accident will be responsible for some, if not all, associated expenses incurred. It doesn’t mean nobody will be determined to be at fault; it simply means that the insurance company will pay your claim no matter who is found to be at fault.
How Is Fault Determined in a Car Crash?
In some cases, fault is obvious, and a police report will state the facts and conclusions based on what happened. But there’s often more to the story than meets the eye, and that’s where insurance adjustors come in. These folks are experienced researchers and investigators who piece together everything that happened leading up to and during the accident to determine fault in a car accident. They take and/or review pictures of the vehicle and accident site, interview participants and witnesses, review relevant documents, consider weather, time of day, road conditions and road signs that all may have played a role in the accident.
Each party’s insurance adjustor/company will work to determine fault and then communicate with each other to come to an agreement. Sometimes, they agree that fault is shared, to varying degrees or percentages.
Don’t Make this Common Mistake
Regardless of who seems to be at fault, it’s a wise decision never to verbally accept fault while at the scene of the accident, no matter what the circumstances are.
Adjustors may uncover other causes of an accident that might absolve you of part or all of the responsibility. When dealing with other drivers at the accident scene, try to keep control of your emotions and keep conversation to a minimum, based only on the facts at hand or in exchanging insurance information. Document as much as you can: take pictures at the scene of the accident, of involved vehicles and damage, make notes of circumstances, weather, time of day and other factors. And of course, give honest and accurate statements to the police. All of these factors will be included when an adjustor eventually works to determine fault.
What to Do if You Are at Fault in a Car Accident
If you disagree with the finding that you are at fault, partially or wholly, for a car accident, you can appeal their decision and follow their procedures for how to dispute this finding. This can eventually lead to a third-party mediator’s evaluating all the evidence and coming to a conclusion about fault.
If you are at fault for an accident, you and your insurance company will be responsible for paying out damages for your case. If you are found to be at fault, your auto insurance company will likely raise your rates after the accident.
Car accident costs can rise to astronomical levels, depending on how bad the damage is and whether or not people were hurt—and. if so, how badly they were hurt. Your policy may only cover damages up to a certain dollar amount (“policy limit”), and then you will be responsible for paying the remainder on your own.
Your adjustor works on your behalf to manage the damages and get the other party to agree to certain dollar limits. However, if they are unsuccessful and the injured party wants more than your coverage will allow, you should retain a car accident lawyer to fight for your rights and represent your interests in the case.