Car Accident Checklist

How to Tell Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident

Determining who is at fault in a car accident is essential when attempting to recover damages. Assessing the location of the damage on the vehicles can help investigators determine who was at fault. Additionally, investigators look at the police report, witness statements, and other factors to determine fault.

The Police Report

When responding to the scene, police officers take statements from witnesses and those involved in the accident. However, people who know they are at fault may not tell the entire truth. Generally, police officers know how to interpret the damage to vehicles and come to a determination of who was most likely at fault. However, just because a police officer says a driver is at fault, it does not mean this is a fact.

Keep in mind that, in the report, officers can only write what they see. In some cases, because of the location of the damage on two vehicles, it is easy to determine who is at fault. In other cases, extenuating circumstances and/or the location of the damage can make it more difficult to determine fault. Thus, a police report may not necessarily be correct if it states who is at fault.

If the back of a car has visible damage, and the vehicle behind it has damage to its front, there is a higher probability that the driver in the second vehicle is at fault for the accident because he or she might have been tailgating. If the second car kept the proper distance, the accident would not have happened, or the damage would not have been as extensive—even if the first vehicle stopped suddenly.

Factors in Determining Fault

In addition to the damage to the vehicles, investigators will also typically look at other factors, including:

  • Whether the headlights were on;
  • The use of turn signals;
  • The angle of the steering wheel;
  • Skid marks;
  • The anti-lock brake system;
  • Visual impairments;
  • Weather conditions;
  • Road conditions;
  • The point of impact; and
  • Whether one of the vehicles shows evidence of sudden acceleration.

Another factor in helping investigators determine fault is whether a driver involved in the accident received a citation. For example, citations for making an illegal left turn, following too closely, or citations for other infractions could help investigators determine who was at-fault for the accident.

How Insurance Companies Determine Fault

Insurance companies and their investigators should look at all of the available evidence when putting the pieces of the accident together. In addition to your statement, insurance companies are supposed to look at the police report, speak with accident witnesses, examine the accident scene, and examine the damage to any vehicle involved in the accident. They then determine fault based on the evidence. However, insurance companies are in business to make a profit. Paying a claim can cut into their bottom lines.

Because the insurance company has a vested interest in their profit margin, retain a car accident lawyer to help you file a claim, especially if the insurance company tries to deny your claim or offer you an unfair settlement.

Negligence and Car Accidents

One of the items that investigators look for—and if your case goes to court, what the court looks for—is negligence. According to Cornell Law School, negligence is “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” The definition also explains that inaction could also fit the definition of negligence (for example, the duty to help those you have injured because of your conduct).

Negligence might include:

  • Speeding;
  • Driving erratically;
  • Driving under the influence;
  • Ignoring traffic signals;
  • Driving while distracted;
  • Tailgating;
  • Making illegal turns; and
  • Breaking other traffic laws.

Injuries You Could Suffer as a Result of Another Person’s Negligence

The injuries you could suffer from a car accident can depend on several factors.

This could include speed, how another vehicle hits you, and the size of the other vehicle compared to the size of your vehicle. Injuries could include:

  • Bruises, scrapes, and cuts;
  • Sprained and/or strained joints, pulled and/or torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries;
  • Simple and/or compound fractures;
  • Head, neck, and shoulder injuries;
  • Traumatic brain injuries;
  • Spinal cord and back injuries;
  • Paralysis;
  • Internal injuries;
  • Loss of a bodily function, like eyesight;
  • Burns;
  • Road rash;
  • Amputations; and
  • Psychological injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and/or depression.

Recoverable Damages

The amount of damages you may recover largely depends on the severity of your injuries. Depending on your case, you could collect economic and non-economic damages. The court may order both types of damages in an attempt to make you whole again. However, most people only receive non-economic damages if the accident caused injuries that lead to long-term or permanent disabilities, or death.

Economic Damages

Special damages, or economic damages, have a fixed price and can include:

  • Past and future medical expenses;
  • Past and future lost wages;
  • Upgrades to your home to provide for ambulatory issues, including wheelchair ramps;
  • Medical equipment, including ambulatory aids;
  • Replacement or repair of personal property; and
  • Funeral and burial expenses.

Non-Economic Damages

General damages, or non-economic damages, do not have a fixed price and may include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Loss of consortium and/or companionship;
  • Loss of use of a body part and/or function;
  • Inconvenience;
  • Disfigurement;
  • Paralysis; and
  • Amputation.

If you suffer from injuries because of a motor vehicle accident, contact a car accident attorney for a free initial consultation regarding the details of your matter.