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How to Determine Fault and Liability in a Car Accident

How to Determine Fault and Liability in a Car Accident

Determining fault and liability in a car accident is not always as straightforward or easy as you think it might be. While the cause of an accident is clear-cut in many cases, the fault can often lie with different parties depending on where it happened and what the law says. 

Sometimes, what looks like a simple car accident can also be extremely complicated, especially when law enforcement, lawyers, insurance companies, and the courts get involved. If you want to be as well-informed as possible in the event of a car accident to avoid making mistakes, here are a few different ways for fault and liability to be decided. 

At the Accident Scene By Those Involved

One of the many reasons why law firms like the Law Office of John W. Redmann recommend hiring a lawyer as soon as possible after an accident is that it’s easier than you think to admit fault at the scene of an accident. 

While exchanging contact information with the other party, you or the other driver might accidentally apologize for the accident, say you didn’t see them or a stop sign, or make any other statement that might be seen as admitting fault. 

When you contact a lawyer, you can learn about the best actions to take at an accident scene. These include taking down the names, phone numbers, and insurance and driver license information of those involved, taking photos of the accident scene, damage, and injuries, and documenting all information relating to the auto accident, such as the date, time, weather, and location.

Relying On the Police Report

Police reports can carry a lot of weight when it comes to determining fault and liability in a car accident. As they are public documents, car insurance companies can also rely on them to reach their conclusion. They might even be invaluable should another driver try to sue you for medical injuries and damages, or vice versa. 

When police officers arrive at the scene of an accident, their first job is to ascertain injuries and get accident victims the help they need. Once they’ve done that, they move on to assessing the scene and determining the cause of the accident. 

Sometimes, the cause is immediately apparent, such as if a car’s trajectory is through a stop sign into the side of a passing vehicle. Other times, it’s not so obvious, and they must talk to witnesses to find out if speed, distraction, or driving under the influence was to blame. 

When the police report is made available, you and your lawyer can request a copy, and it also becomes public information for car insurance companies to access. However, if the police do not attend your accident, it’s in your best interest to file an official report in person or online

Leaving it to Your Insurance Company

Auto Insurance Company NY

Depending on the severity of the accident, some people might leave the complexities of a car accident to their insurance company. This process can involve filing a claim with your insurance company, including photos, and having your insurance provider request reimbursement from the driver’s insurer. 

However, leaving your accident claim in the hands of your insurance company isn’t always a wise decision, especially if there’s a chance all your accident-related costs aren’t going to be covered. As a result, many people see it worthwhile to contact car accident lawyers who will calculate a fair settlement figure and negotiate with car insurance companies on your behalf.

Trying Comparative Negligence

If you know that part of your accident might have been the fault of more than one party, you might look at using comparative negligence in your claim. The courts often use this tort principle to reduce damages a plaintiff can recover based on how they contributed to an accident. For example, if one party was 70% to blame for an accident, but another party was 30% to blame, the courts might allow the plaintiff to recover 70% of the damages rather than the total amount. 

However, comparative negligence rules differ from state to state. In around one-third of all states, plaintiffs can claim damages for even a minor percentage of the accident they weren’t at fault for. This means that even if someone was 99% at fault, the plaintiff could claim for the 1% of the accident for which they weren’t at fault. 

The majority of states follow modified comparative negligence consisting of 50% bar rule and 51% bar rule. Under the 50% bar rule, plaintiffs can’t recover damages if they are 50% or more at fault for a collision. Under the 51% bar rule, plaintiffs can’t recover damages if they are 51% or more at fault for an accident.

Letting Your Lawyer Fight for Your Rights

While it’s easy to assume that you can navigate the intricacies of your accident on your own, it’s sometimes better to rely on the expert services of law firms, especially those that pride themselves on determining fault and liability. 

Lawyers can guide you through every step of the claims process, including providing helpful advice to strengthen your case. They can advise you of the importance of preserving evidence, urge you to seek medical treatment and request your medical records, and calculate all accident-related costs, including non-economic ones related to loss of life enjoyment, time of work, and pain and suffering. 

The best lawyers will also be willing to reject an insurance company’s first offer, especially when their experience tells them that it’s rarely their best one and isn’t always adequate to cover all your costs, like car repairs and medical bills. You might also find that they work hard to build a robust case to determine liability and can provide guidance for your court date if your case should progress to that stage. 

There are many different ways to determine fault and liability in a car accident, and it might be in your best interest to keep this information above in mind to ensure you stand the best chance of success when making your car accident claim.