Fault and liability for a motor vehicle accident are complex issues. Often, disagreements about fault arise between drivers and insurance companies.
For example, suppose you turn left across oncoming traffic and hit the rear quarter panel of a vehicle moving through an intersection straight ahead. Who’s at fault? In most states, and absent any significant mitigating factors, you are.
Or, how about this one: You’re turning left out of a driveway onto a 4-lane road with a center turn lane. You must cross traffic coming from your left, so you decide to use the left turn lane as a “safe island” until you can merge with traffic coming up on your right. Legal? Nope. You’ve effectively just made a right turn out of a left turn lane, and jeopardized oncoming traffic with a head-on collision.
States have formal, but varying rules governing how to determine fault and liability. It includes proximate cause, pure comparative fault, and contributory negligence. These rules can significantly impact your ability to recover damages from an accident. For example, some states have no-fault insurance laws. Insured drivers file claims with insurance companies to cover costs in these states. Other states have at-fault insurance laws. In these states, injured parties may only recover if they can prove the crash was the proximate cause of the injury.
Proving fault can be complicated, mainly when eyewitness accounts are contradictory or subject to human error. By and large, the general public is ignorant to the nuances of traffic law, and misinformation abounds. Physical evidence can help establish the facts of an accident case. It can include witness statements, photographs, skid marks, scene recreations, and even blood or vehicle fluid spatters. It can be essential in a crash involving a large truck, commercial vehicle, or car/motorcycle accident. The evidence can also reveal relevant driver errors, equipment violations, or statutory violations.
If a driver causes a car accident, they’re responsible for the vehicle damage and losses (known as damages) caused by the crash. However, they won’t pay for these expenses themselves – they’ll usually turn to their car insurance company. Proving fault can be difficult, especially in accidents where multiple parties are involved or the cause of the crash is unclear. However, in many cases, given the proper investigative techniques and expert review, a clear-cut fault can be determined. For example, rear-end collisions are fairly simple, in that in almost all cases, the liability is on the driver who hit the vehicle in front of them.
Similarly, left-turn collisions are typically the fault of the driver who turns into oncoming traffic without sufficient space and time to do so safely. While some states use modified comparative blame, others adhere to a strict comparative negligence standard. Basically, this means the driver changing direction or doing the unpredictable thing. Drivers may still seek compensation for their damages under modified comparative fault, even if they were determined to be more than 50% at blame for the collision.
It is normal to feel guilty for what transpired after a collision. It’s crucial to avoid blaming others while speaking with police authorities or even your vehicle insurance providers. Accident cases are not settled on the side of the road, and arguing simply wastes energy. Lawyers, judges, and juries determine fault for a car accident by reviewing the facts of the collision, witness statements, physical damage to vehicles, and other evidence. Then, they will assign responsibility to drivers or other parties for the accident and their resulting losses. If you are found to be the majority party responsible for a car accident, your available damages will be reduced by that percentage. Therefore, admitting fault for an accident in most cases should only be discussed with a personal injury attorney or in certain cases, a criminal defense attorney.
The car accident arbitration process allows you and an insurance company to resolve disputes over car accident faults and liability outside the courtroom. A neutral third-party arbitrator hears both sides’ arguments and renders an enforceable ruling against both parties. In limited cases, you can appeal the arbitrator’s ruling in court. The selection of an arbitrator is the first stage in the arbitration procedure. Once this is done, you’ll receive a letter indicating where and when your hearing will be held. You and the other driver will present evidence of your accident damages during your arbitration hearing. This may also include medical records, photos of the scene, your injuries, and the damaged vehicle, pay stubs for lost wages, and other items. You’ll also make opening statements, call witnesses, cross-examine the other driver’s witnesses, and make closing arguments. After considering all the information, the arbitrator will rule on the case and both parties will be dismissed.