Because car accidents can cause serious injuries and even death, determining fault is crucial. At a minimum, you need to know enough about how to determine fault in a car accident to hold the at-fault driver responsible. This is true even if you only have to worry about damages to your car.
Finger-pointing isn’t enough. You need to move forward with determination and solid knowledge of the law. You also need to know who determines fault.
The Importance of the Police Report
If possible, do not leave the scene of a car accident, even a minor one, before the police arrive. You need them there to start the investigation process and to tell them your side of the story. When you believe the accident is the other driver’s fault, this is critical.
The only exception is when you’re severely injured. Let EMTs do their jobs and take you to the hospital; you can deal with the rest later. This situation is not ideal, but your life is more important.
The final report may or may not include a statement of who was at fault. However, if the police issue a citation against the other driver for any reason, their insurance company will be more likely to settle. Citations and criminal charges — especially DUIs — are important factors in the police officer’s decision on how to determine fault in a car accident.
Who Else Can Determine Fault?
You can count on a police report’s accuracy most of the time, but sometimes they get it wrong. This happens most often when you can’t speak for yourself at the time of the accident — for instance, because you’ve already been taken to a hospital. The same is true if the victim (for example, one of your family members) dies at the scene. If that’s the case, the police have limited information, and unfortunately, people tend to lie to protect themselves.
While the police report is important, the officer was not at the scene of the accident, only the aftermath. Their word is not automatically law. If you think the police report is in error, hire a good law firm that has its own investigators who will reconstruct the accident scene and talk to witnesses, police, and EMTs. If their investigators find the police were wrong, they’ll fight it out with the at-fault driver’s insurance company — in court, if necessary.
Beware of Insurance Investigators
The other driver’s insurance company will have its own ideas about how to determine fault in a car accident. Don’t expect them to just settle if they think you may be even slightly at fault. They may also send out investigators to the scene to reconstruct the accident. If they decide their driver wasn’t at fault, even though your evidence and even police evidence says otherwise, expect to see them in court.
This may happen even if they decide their driver was at fault, if they can pin part of the fault on you. If they can prove even a little negligence on your part, they’ll lower any settlement offer — a lot. Then you’ll definitely have to file a lawsuit to obtain decent compensation.
What Might Constitute Negligence on My Part?
The most common negligence accusations include:
- Aggressive driving.
- Breaking traffic laws.
- Distracted driving.
- Poor auto maintenance.
Some insurance companies may even blame other factors rather than admit fault. Common “outside” claims include defective auto parts (the fault of whoever sold the other driver their car) and bad roads (the government’s fault).
Can I Get Compensation If I’m Partly at Fault?
Yes, but it will be less than you would get if you were found completely not at fault. Investigators assign partial fault more often than you might think, especially in accidents involving three or more cars. But don’t assume you’ll have no luck in getting compensation. It’s possible to get a decent settlement from the insurance of the other driver(s). Realize, however, that they may seek a settlement from your insurance company as well.
Learn More About How to Determine Fault in a Car Accident
We’re experienced car accident attorneys who will be happy to answer your questions. Contact Russell & Lazarus APC today. Don’t lose out on potential compensation just because you don’t understand how to determine fault in a car accident.