Car Accident Fault Basics: Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident?

June 13, 2013
drivers determining car accident fault

Determining who is at fault in a car accident on the spot may seem easy, but the reality of who is responsible can vary from state to state. By understanding car accident fault determination, you will be better prepared to walk away from the accident know who to proceed with your legal options.

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Sometimes there is a bit of confusion as to what constitutes an at-fault accident and what does not. Drivers that have been involved in collisions should know the importance of fault, for the ramifications for the driver at fault can be considerable. In particular, how one's own insurance company treats the at-fault driver can drastically affect if a claim is going to be denied or accepted. In addition, the insurance company for the driver at fault is often responsible for paying the deductible and cost to repair both vehicles. So you can see why insurance companies are extremely concerned about the driver who caused the accident.

What "At Fault" Means
It should come as no surprise that "at fault" literally means the person that caused the accident, or the one whose fault it is. Each state has its own specific definition of this, but basically a person that is considered the catalyst for the accident is most likely to be considered "at fault". There are other classifications of accidents, such as "no fault" and "partial fault". The definitions of these terms also vary greatly from state to state. Often times it can be difficult to ascertain who is at fault, and liability will be assessed to both drivers. In most cases, the person considered at fault will be the one that has performed an illegal, reckless, careless or irresponsible action while driving their vehicle, thus causing other vehicles to react to their actions, resulting in an accident.

What are the Ramifications of "At Fault"?
Drivers that are considered at fault will find their insurance rates will increase, especially if there was there has been considerable damage to other vehicles. In addition, some insurance providers will drop drivers if they have too many at fault accidents. Furthermore, negligent drivers may be forced to pay for medical expenses, adding even more cost to their insurance companies. This can be particularly devastating if several cars, and multiple people, are involved. Property damage can also be tacked on to this as well. Insurance rates are not the only ramification of being at fault for an auto accident. Some states will dock points on drivers licenses if you get into too many accidents, which in turn can further raise insurance rates.

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As you can see, there are many factors that determine who is at fault during an automobile accident. Because of the wide ranging effects, insurance companies always tell drivers never to admit fault at the scene of a crime. By doing so, you can potentially sabotage your entire case, costing your insurance provider thousands of dollars. Yet that is the not the only reason to not admit fault during a car crash. Sometimes outside factors that you hadn't considered, or even remembered, played an important role in the accident. By admitting fault before knowing all of the facts, such as those provided by eyewitnesses, can severely damage your case.

How to Determine Car Accident Fault
Understanding fault revolves around understanding what each driver was supposed to be doing in that situation. The driver who did not act appropriately is often at fault. While this works for accidents when there is someone clearly at fault (a missed stop sign, pulling into someone on the road, etc), this is not the best way to understand who is at fault for more complex incidents.

  • Evaluate avoidance. Part of understanding car accident fault is understanding the accident itself; did the person make an attempt to avoid the accident? If they did not try to avoid the accident, even if they are not at fault, faults may change (depending on the specific situation).
  • Talk to the police. If the authorities are involved, speaking to them after the accident reports have been taken can help you to understand and determine fault. The police are asked to find the party at fault independently, when the accident requires a ticket. This can help to clear up any possible confusion.

Determining fault after a car accident is a very important and can greatly affect the amount you have to pay to repair your vehicle. Be sure to take it seriously should you ever be in this kind of situation.