If you've been in a car accident, you know the importance of liability - the "liable" driver caused the accident and is therefore responsible for paying for the damages. To do that, the accident claim will use their insurance policy.
How to Determine Who is At-Fault in a Car Accident
Sometimes, the liable driver is obvious. For instance, if Bob rear-ends Joe, Bob is (usually) liable. Better yet, if Bob admits that he was texting when he ran into Joe, the issue is clearly over and we know who's responsible.
In legal talk, we call Bob "at-fault" or "liable." What does at-fault mean? A driver or someone who is at fault for an accident is the person that caused the accident to occur. Similarly, liable can be used as a synonym for responsible. Determining fault in a car accident is one of the most important steps that must be covered before creating a claim. Personal injury attorneys take the task of how to know who’s at fault because of testimonies from the drivers, witness testimonies, evidence (as will be discussed in a section below), and a police and/or crash report.
Going back to the scenario, what if Bob says Joe cut into his lane and slammed on his brakes without giving Bob a chance to stop? Now we have a dispute, and we'll need to look at the evidence to determine who's responsible.
The Role Evidence Plays
If neither Bob nor Joe admits fault, then evidence comes into play. Evidence includes both drivers' side of the story, witness opinions, physical evidence from the scene (like skid marks), the damage to the cars and the opinion of the responding police officer.
If you're in a car accident and you think it's the other driver's fault, it's extremely important to secure your evidence quickly. If there are severe damage or injuries, I'd advise you to hire an attorney to ensure the evidence is properly obtained.
I mentioned the opinion of the responding police officer counts as evidence. After a car wreck, you must call 911. The responding officer will assign fault in their police report. Though the officer's opinion isn't always accurate, it usually does a good job and can be used later on if the issue of liability is in dispute.
See Analysis of a Texas Police Report for more information on when a report is done, what one contains, and the accuracy and reliability of these police reports. If you don't yet have the accident report, learn how to Obtain Your Police Report.
How to Tell Who is At Fault in an Accident Report
As you can tell, evidence plays a very important role in the claims process. In a personal injury case, determining who was at-fault by location of the damage was can be accomplished by an expert examining the vehicle damage and the movement of the vehicle before the impact. Also, a personal injury attorney (an even you) can know how to tell who is at fault in an accident report by reading the police officer’s notes in the report. This can be a quick and easy method of establishing liability, especially if the at-fault driver is not admitting fault or if they are stating they did not cause the accident, which will be discussed in the next section.
How to Prove You Are Not at Fault in a Car Accident
It is not uncommon for the at-fault driver or the insurance company to deny liability and state that you caused the accident. Personal injury attorneys know how to prove you are not at fault in a car accident because they create (using evidence and other vital pieces of information) a demand, which includes a section stating that the car accident could not have possibly been caused by you. One of - if not the biggest reason - that insurance companies are in business is to make money.
Who Ultimately Decides Liability?
The insurance company.
Let's take another look at Bob and Joe. Joe puts the blame on Bob, but Bob denies responsibility for the accident. When Joe files a claim against Bob's insurance (in other words, when Joe tries to get Bob's insurance to pay for his damaged car and injuries), Bob's insurance company must make the choice: do they think their client, Bob, was really at-fault?
If the insurance company "accepts liability," then the claim gets moving toward a resolution, which is a good sign.
If the insurance company "denies liability," then the only way Joe's going to win is if he files a lawsuit.
Once you file a lawsuit, liability is decided by a jury (instead of the insurance company).
What Happens If Both Drivers are At-Fault?
Sometimes one driver was clearly 100 percent at fault. Other times, both drivers share fault. Texas is a comparative responsibility state, meaning people can share the blame.
So what if you're found to be partially at fault? You'll need to look into the details. Does the insurance company think 20 percent of the blame is yours? Sixty percent? The rule is that if you're more than 50 percent at-fault, you can NOT make a claim against the other driver for compensation. (Basically, you mostly caused the wreck so you need to pay for it).
Why Knowing Who Is At Fault in a Car Accident is Important
On the other hand, if you didn't "mostly" cause the wreck, you can still file a claim against the other driver to recover money for damage to your car, injuries, pain and suffering. You might not get as much money as you would have if you were zero percent responsible for the accident, but that shouldn't stop you from making a claim.
Here's an example. John is running late for his date with Sally. He crashes his car into Bob's pickup truck, sending Bob to the hospital with serious injuries. At the end of the trial, the jury awards Bob $100,000 in damages, but it's also discovered that Bob was texting at the time of the accident and wasn't paying attention to the road around him.
For this reason, Bob is told he's 25 percent responsible for the wreck. Bob would not be entitled to the full $100,000 awarded by the jury. Instead, the judge would reduce his award by 25 percent (or $25,000), and a judgment would be entered in Bob's favor for $75,000.
Ultimately, Bob still receives compensation, but not as much as he could have, had he not been found partially at-fault for the crash.
What to Do if a Car Accident Was Not Your Fault
Being in a car accident can be a time consuming and frustrating process. Between dealing with the insurance company to figuring out how your vehicle will be repaired, a personal injury claim is definitely something you do not want to deal with. Also, not knowing which steps to follow or how to proceed can be a confusing task.
If you are having trouble figuring out what to do after a car accident that was not your fault, here are three simple steps you can take:
- Go to the hospital or emergency clinic
- Take pictures of your injuries
- Take pictures of your property damage
- Get a copy of your police and/or crash report
- Contact a personal injury attorney
When the accident was caused by someone else, it is only fair for their insurance company to pay, not yours. However, there are certain scenarios where using your own insurance company might be needed, as the following section holds.
What If the Wreck was a No Fault Car Accident?
Another possibility is for your injury claim to be filed against your own insurance company. This can be done when the driver fled the scene in a hit-and-run accident, the driver did not have car insurance, or another situation where filing against your own insurance would be the only alternative. Many drivers are not aware they have uninsured or underinsure motorist (UI/UIM) protection covered in their insurance policy. This coverage would be activated in order to ensure that the injured party gets compensated for any accident-related expenses generated, such as medical bills and lost wages.