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They Came Out of Nowhere: How to Establish Fault in a Car Accident

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car accidentOften a case of “he said, she said” — sorting out who is at fault for an auto accident — is not necessarily easy, but is extremely important for everyone involved for one basic reason: money.

Determining who is to blame is vital in deciding who will pay for the damages. Generally, the at-fault driver pays for all the damages, but according to CarsDirect, many states have extremely complicated systems to determine fault in which percentages of responsibility are assigned to each driver.

The drivers’ insurance companies are ultimately the ones who assert claims for damages and make the final determination regarding liability. There are five general principles insurance companies look at when determining fault in an auto accident:

Did Anyone Get a Ticket?

If law enforcement personnel investigating at the scene of the accident wrote a traffic ticket to one of the drivers for speeding, running a red light, following too closely, or some other violation, and documented it in writing on the accident report, that driver will likely be held responsible for the accident.

If police were not called to investigate the accident, the drivers are essentially left to sort out the matter themselves. In this situation, they should take as many pictures of the accident scene from as many angles as they can, and take names and contact information from any witnesses present to help establish fault.

Where’s the Damage?

The actual damage on the vehicles is valuable in helping to establish fault, according to AllAboutCarAccidents.com. In almost all situations, if a driver hits another vehicle from behind, he or she will be blamed for the accident. Similarly, a driver making a left turn is often held responsible for any collisions resulting from his turn. If someone runs a red light, that driver will often hit another car broadside and will be liable for the accident since the other driver was simply following the law by going through an intersection on a green light.

Sometimes fault is not so easy to determine, as when one driver pulls out in front of another driver and gets hit. In this situation, the blame could rest with the driver who pulled out, or it could at least partially be considered the fault of the other driver for not paying attention and failing to avoid the accident by swerving or at least slowing down.

Did Either Driver Say It Was Their Fault?

If one driver apologizes to another after the accident, saying something like, “I’m sorry I hit you,” or, “I didn’t see you,” and this admission is documented on the accident report, chances are that driver will get most or all of the blame for the accident. This is a good reason to say as little as possible when you’re involved in an accident. You should answer any questions posed to you by law enforcement but speak as little as possible to anyone else at the scene.

Were There Any Witnesses?

Under most circumstances, drivers will not admit blame, and witnesses will be called upon to give their opinion about what happened. Police officers and insurance claims representatives will often take the names and phone numbers of any witnesses at the scene, and call them later to ask for their account of the accident. Personal injury attorneys also contact witnesses to help them build their case, give depositions, or to testify at trial.

Was Either Party Negligent?

If a driver ran a stop sign or cut another driver off and caused an accident, this carelessness may constitute negligence and require them to reimburse the other driver for the damage they caused. Other examples of driver negligence that may result in liability include driving at night with no headlights, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not signaling a turn, and failure to keep a proper lookout.

Consequences of Liability

Liability for an auto accident has many negative implications, including being responsible for someone else’s property damage, medical bills, and your own higher insurance rates. Drivers with numerous at-fault accidents may even be dropped by their insurance company and have trouble finding automobile coverage at an affordable rate.

Bottom line: An accident can happen to anyone, but try not to cause one.

Image by xersti.

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