How to Determine Fault in A Motor Vehicle Accident

After a motor vehicle accident, it is common for one or both parties involved to seek compensation from auto insurance companies. A major part of the process of filing an insurance claim and receiving compensation is determining who was at fault for the accident. ​​The insurance payout will be different depending on who is found to be at fault. This means that correctly determining fault is incredibly important. This article will explain the different methods that may be used to do so.

What Is Fault in Motor Vehicle Accidents?

In the context of car accident insurance and civil law, fault is when an individual acts in an ignorant, careless, or negligent way that results in loss, injury, or suffering to another party. Fault can be either a harmful act or a failure to act reasonably or according to one’s law or duty. Fault is an essential element for holding a party legally responsible for an act or crime. 

There are four types of fault recognized by common law:

  • Negligence - being careless or inadvertently acting in a way that causes harm or damage
  • Recklessness or wanton conduct - a willful disregard for the safety and well-being of others
  • Intentional misconduct - conduct by a person who knows, at the time of the act, that their conduct is harmful to the health or well-being of others
  • Strict liability - liability imposed without finding fault in the form of negligence or intent

Ways to Determine Fault

Before an insurance company will pay out a claim, they will go through a process of investigating the case in order to find fault. There are a number of ways that fault can be found. These include the following.

Fault Decided by Drivers

One of the first ways fault can be determined is if both drivers agree on it at the scene of the accident. It’s common for parties to an accident to want to blame one another. However, it’s highly recommended not to try to determine fault in this way. Tensions are high immediately after a car accident and it might turn out that somebody admits fault for an accident that they aren’t actually responsible for. And even if it were done in the heat of the moment, admitting fault can lead to being held legally responsible. 

That’s why drivers should hold off from speaking about fault at the scene of the accident. Instead, they should exchange contact information, license numbers, and insurance policy numbers, as well as document all the damage with photos. If there are any witnesses to the accident, you should take down their contact information, as well. Then, later on, you can use all of this as evidence for determining fault under the guidance of experienced legal counsel

​​Fault Decided by Police Report

If you call the police to the scene of your accident, the officer will assess the situation and, sometimes, make their own conclusions about what happened and who was at fault. This will be noted in their police report. If one or more of the drivers clearly broke a traffic law, they will be issued a citation that will also be documented in the report. 

Police reports are not always the final word on car accident fault. Sometimes, insurance adjusters will come to a different conclusion than the police officer who responded to the scene. However, if there is a police report, the insurance companies will be sure to request it and use it as one piece of evidence in their investigation. 

If you are not at fault, having a police report filed is a good way to protect you so that there is a strong piece of evidence documenting what happened at the scene. 

Fault Decided by Auto Insurance Companies

When you file a claim to an auto insurance company, they will begin the process of determining fault by collecting and examining evidence. There are many things that they will consider as part of their investigation including:

  • Statements from both parties
  • Statements from any witnesses to the scene
  • Photos and videos of car damage, injuries, skid marks, etc.
  • Police reports
  • Traffic camera footage

The insurance company will ultimately make a decision about who was at fault and use it to determine their payout. There are also situations in which they might decide that both parties were partially at fault. In these cases, people may be partially compensated according to the percentage of fault they are found to have had. 

Fault Decided in Court

There are sometimes situations in which the parties involved in an accident cannot negotiate a settlement with their insurance company that everybody agrees to. If this happens, they can escalate the case to court by filing a civil lawsuit. If the case does go to court, fault will ultimately be decided once and for all by a jury.

However, it’s worth nothing that this is a very rare outcome. The legal process is lengthy and costly for all parties involved and both sides tend to prefer to settle outside of court. That being said, it is still worthwhile to hire a lawyer to represent you when you are making an auto insurance claim. 

Even if you do not intend to go to court, an attorney can still help you navigate the insurance claims process and negotiate with your insurer for the best possible payout. And, on the off chance that you do decide to sue, you will already have legal counsel on your side who is familiar with your case and knows how to advocate for you.

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