How is Fault Determined in a Car Crash?

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy pexels
Last week I showed you everything you needed to know about accidents involving parked vehicles.  As with all car crashes, before an insurance company will pay to repair your vehicle or cover the medical expenses of anyone injured, it must determine who’s at fault.  In the case of hitting a parked car, determining who’s the at-fault driver isn’t all that difficult, unless the careless motorist who hit your vehicle flees the scene.  In the case of a crash involving two or more vehicles, it isn’t always so cut and dried when it comes to determining fault, as you will see below.

Playing the Blame Game
When it comes to auto accidents, many are not as cut and dry as most motorists think.  In a multi-vehicle accident blame might be assessed to one driver or a portion of the blame could be assessed to each involved driver.  While the discretion for apportioning blame is exclusively in the purview of the insurer, since the insurance companies involved in paying for damages weren’t at the scene of the accident, it’s up to their adjusters to initially decide who’s at fault.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that their assessment is chiseled in stone, since any driver involved in the wreck can get an attorney involved in the negotiations.  If this doesn’t satisfy all the parties, the final arbiter could well be a court judge.  In accidents involving injuries and/or death, lawsuits are not uncommon. Far from being a subjective matter, with more than 35,000 accidents having taken place in 2018, the courts assign juries to one of three systems to gauge negligence:

1.      Pure Contributory Negligence – is used when the behavior of the driver being sued contributed to the defendant’s damages or injuries. When this system is chosen for use by a jury, both parties are eligible for compensation, even if one of the drivers involved in the accident is only found 1% responsible.

2.      Pure Comparative Negligence comes into play when both parties share some of the blame.  When this system is chosen, the driver being sued isn’t eligible for compensation, even if both drivers are found to be at fault.

3.      Modified Comparative Negligence works similar to Pure Comparative Negligence, the difference being that the driver being sued isn’t eligible for compensation as long as they are deemed to be at least 51% responsible for the accident.

What’s the difference between no-fault and at-fault states?

Image courtesy flickr
Another way in which state governments get involved in legislating the way in which auto accident claims are handled is by declaring themselves either at-fault or no-fault states.  In at-fault states, any driver who is found to be responsible for an accident is required to pay for the other party’s damages, including medical bills.  In no-fault states like Florida, both insurance companies reimburse the policyholder and their passengers without proof of fault.  In no-fault states, drivers are required to carry Personal Injury Protection, otherwise known as PIP.  This coverage is meant to cover a driver’s medical expenses and even wages lost due to injuries sustained in an accident.  No-fault insurance was designed to lower the cost of premiums by reducing lawsuits that can result after an accident by drivers seeking payments for injuries and loss of property.

Whose fault is it anyway?

When it comes to assessing fault relating to an auto accident, there are numerous factors to take into consideration in all but the following circumstances in which the offending driver is clearly to blame:

1.      A collision with a stationary object
2.      Hitting another vehicle from behind
3.      Running a stop sign or a red light
4.      Striking another vehicle while backing up

Image courtesy needpix
In other auto accidents, determining who’s at fault is a bit trickier unless your car is equipped with a dashcam that captures the accident on video.  In every other case, fault is determined by two factors, eyewitnesses and evidence.  In most states, the vehicle that winds up at the tail end of an accident is considered responsible for the accident.  That’s because as a driver you’re supposed to leave enough room between you and another driver to stop without striking the vehicle ahead.

Sometimes more than one vehicle is involved in a chain reaction accident.  These are most common at stoplights and crowded off-ramps where one vehicle strikes another in the rear bumper only to cause the struck vehicle to hit the one ahead of it and so on.  In these cases, each of the drivers who rear ended the vehicle ahead are typically assessed a portion of the blame for the accident.

In head-on accidents or collisions where one driver T-bones another, assessing fault can be a trickier still.  That’s because different states have different laws concerning whether the offending driver was turning right or left, as well as whether either driver was speeding at the time of the accident.  While speed used to be a subjective matter, most late model vehicles have the capability of recording their speed, acceleration and other factors that can help prove guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt if this data is retrieved following a collision.

What should you do if you’re involved in a traffic accident?

      1.      Collect evidence at the scene including photos of the damage to both vehicles and eyewitness testimonials, as well as noting if the other driver gets issued a traffic citation by the police. If there are any surveillance cameras that overlook the scene of the accident, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see if you can gain access to the footage.

      2.      Record whether the collision was the result of a rear-end collision or a left-hand turn. A driver making a left-hand turn who’s involved in an accident is more often than not deemed the at-fault driver.

      3.      Note whether the other driver was negligent or seemed to be impaired before the accident occurred.  This is especially damning if the driver was seen to weave from lane to lane or was clearly talking on or texting from their phone in the moments prior to the collision.

      4.      Determine if you live in a pure contributory negligence state.  If this is the case, if you are deemed to be even slightly at fault, you cannot sue to recover any losses for injuries or damages.  The five places that use this construct are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington DC.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. The devil's in the details when it comes to proving your innocence after a wredk.

  2. It also in the witnesses if you get find some ;d


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