Determining fault in a car accident can involve a range of steps depending on the nature of the accident.
By: James Swartz
Managing & Principal Attorney – Car Accidents, Catastrophic Injuries, Contract and Business Litigation, Inadequate Security & Premises Liability Litigation, Medical Malpractice, Product Liability & Wrongful Death
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Being involved in a car accident isn’t merely a frightening experience. Depending on the extent of your injuries and other relevant losses, even if you survive your accident, you may still be left facing a number of expenses as a result of the collision.
Your injuries will certainly require medical treatment, which may be costly. They can also limit your ability to perform your duties at work. If you can’t work, you can’t earn wages.
Fortunately, you may be eligible for financial compensation after your accident. If you live in an “at-fault” or “tort” state, you can recover compensation from the insurance of the party whose negligence resulted in your collision. You can file a lawsuit if they don’t have insurance or if their insurer refuses to offer a fair payout.
In a “no-fault” state, your own insurer will typically be responsible for compensating you, even if the accident occurred because someone else was negligent. However, even in no-fault states, victims can sometimes recover additional compensation from the insurance of the careless party if their injuries and losses are severe enough. That said, in some states, your insurer might not pay you as much as you are seeking if it can be shown that you were substantially responsible for causing your accident.
This highlights an essential point: Regardless of the law in your state, properly determining fault after an auto accident is critical. To a degree, how fault is determined can vary from one case to another. The following are among the more common and noteworthy ways the at-fault party is identified after an accident:
Reviewing Statements of Those Involved in the Collision
Understandably, in the immediate aftermath of a car accident, it can be difficult to remain calm and composed. You must nevertheless make a sincere effort to “keep your cool” when discussing the accident with the other drivers that were involved in the collision. If you don’t choose your words carefully, you could accidentally make statements that may suggest you are admitting you caused the accident, even when the facts suggest otherwise.
The statements of anyone involved in an accident can play a major role in determination of fault. While you should always be honest and straightforward when answering law enforcement’s questions about the accident, when speaking to anyone else aside from your lawyer, avoid saying anything that can be used against you in the future.
This is particularly important to keep in mind when insurance adjusters try to contact you. You’re actually better off hiring an attorney to handle all correspondence with the insurance company on your behalf.
Reviewing Pictures & Video
If you have the opportunity to do so, take pictures of the scene in the immediate aftermath of an accident. This includes taking pictures of all vehicles involved. Take pictures of any visible injuries you’ve sustained as well.
Pictures often make determining fault after a collision easier than it might otherwise be. So does video.
It’s possible a nearby security camera, dashboard camera, or other type of video camera recorded your accident as it occurred. A professional can help you investigate whether such footage is available. If it is, a lawyer can also assist you in obtaining the footage. A video of an accident as it happened can be a very useful piece of evidence.
Collecting Witness Statements
After your accident, check on the other driver or drivers and call the police to report the collision. As you’re waiting for the police to arrive, get the names and contact information of any witnesses at the scene. Witness statements can also simplify the process of determining who is at-fault.
Investigating the Scene
A thorough investigation of the conditions at the scene of the accident may also be necessary when you’re attempting to accurately identify who caused it. It may be vital to investigate the condition of the vehicle or vehicles involved in the collision as well.
This is partially because the negligent individual or group responsible for causing your accident may not always be another driver. Perhaps your accident happened because a nearby driver encountered a road hazard that resulted in them losing control of their vehicle. If the hazard should have been addressed by the time the accident occurred, the at-fault party might be the government agency or contractor that was supposed to correct or warn of such hazards in a timely manner.
This is another reason to coordinate with professionals when pursuing compensation after a car accident. An attorney has the resources needed to thoroughly explore all avenues when determining who was negligent.
If you have the opportunity to do so, take pictures of the scene in the immediate aftermath of an accident. This includes taking pictures of all vehicles involved.
Identifying Signs of Careless Driving
At-fault parties frequently cause auto accidents because they were already engaging in some form of negligent behavior before the accident occurred. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Running a red light
- Driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs
- Driving while tired
- Texting or otherwise using a mobile device when driving
- Failing to yield the right-of-way
- Not signaling turns
Again, these are only a few examples. If there is evidence showing that another driver involved in your accident was careless behind the wheel, you can cite that evidence when arguing that your accident would not have happened if they’d been more responsible.
The Importance of Understanding State Guidelines & Laws
The above points cover some of the general ways fault may be determined after a car accident. It’s important to note that individual states also have their own unique set of guidelines, regulations, and laws that may contribute to determination of fault.
This is yet another reason to strongly consider meeting with a car accident attorney before attempting to identify the at-fault party on your own. Their expertise and understanding of the relevant laws will improve your odds of accurately identifying whose negligence caused your accident. Knowing who the negligent party is and having the evidence to prove they were negligent is key to optimizing your chances of recovering proper compensation.
Our experienced attorneys are here to answer your questions and help you if you have been involved in a car accident. If you want to learn about your potential legal options, call our injury attorneys today at (617) 742-1900; clients from outside of the Boston, Massachusetts area may call toll-free at 1-800-545-3732. At Swartz & Swartz, P.C., attorney is ready to help you get the justice you deserve.
If you or someone you know, needs help from a lawyer, contact the law offices of Swartz & Swartz, use our live chat, or send us a message using the form below and we’ll get in touch to assess your case and how we can help.