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

June 1, 2016
Car Accident

In a car accident, everyone’s first instinct is to point fingers and immediately say the other person was at fault. It’s in these moments that everyone becomes an expert in the field of traffic law. In reality, traffic laws are complex and many variables come into play when determining the at-fault party in each state. Continue reading to dive deeper into who may be at fault for an accident.

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Sometimes there is a bit of confusion as to what constitutes an at-fault accident and what does not. Drivers involved in collisions must understand the importance of fault and not immediately accepting fault in any accident, as the ramifications for the at-fault driver can be considerable. Being the at-fault party makes you solely responsible for all damages done in the accident, including injuries to people. The financial burden then falls onto your insurance company, possibly leading to increased premiums or being dropping from the policy altogether.

What "At Fault" Means
It should come as no surprise that "at fault" literally means the person who caused the accident. Each state has its own specific definition of this, but basically a person who 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 impossible 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 who 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 who are considered at fault will often experience increased insurance premiums, especially if there was considerable damage to other vehicles and property. 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.

Insurance rates are not the only ramification for being at fault for an auto accident. Some states will actually assign points to your license for every at-fault accident, which can eventually result in a suspension or a forced retesting.

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As you can see, there are many factors that determine who is at fault for an automobile accident. Because of the wide-ranging damage that can occur, insurance companies always tell drivers never to admit fault at the scene of an accident. 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. In some cases, outside factors that you hadn't considered or remembered may have 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 centers on 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 where someone is 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 in more complex incidents.

  • Evaluate avoidance. Part of understanding who’s at fault for an accident 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, this could shift some of the fault to the other driver, depending on the specific situation.
  • Talk to the police. If the authorities are involved, speaking to them after they have taken the accident report can help you to understand and determine fault. The police are often asked to find the party at fault when the accident requires a ticket, which can help to clear up any possible confusion.

Determining fault after a car accident is very important and can greatly impact the amount you have to pay to repair your vehicle. Taking the situation seriously and understanding that it is not your place to determine fault can help save you money and aggravation.