How Is Fault Determined In A Car Accident?
Whether you’re determining what to do in the wake of a car accident or comparing different car insurance policy options, it can help to understand what “at fault” means in a car accident—and how an at-fault determination could affect your car insurance options going forward.
Essentially, “at fault” refers to who insurance companies consider the person who caused the accident.
Understanding your potential liability in a car accident can help you prepare for possible repercussions, like higher insurance premiums or—in a worst-case scenario—the other driver taking you to court.
What Does “At Fault” Mean?
Before diving into determining fault in a car accident case, let's look at what “at fault” means exactly. If a driver is determined to be at fault for a car accident, it means they caused the accident either by doing something incorrectly or failing to do something correctly.1
For example, a driver who is responsible for a car accident may have driven the wrong way down a one-way street or rear-ended a car on the highway.
So why does it matter whose fault it is?
Depending on which state you live in, the person who caused the accident—or their auto insurance company—may be responsible for paying some of the costs racked up by the person they hit. These costs may include:2
- Medical bills
- Car repairs
- Lost income
If there’s disagreement over who caused the auto accident or how much money the at-fault driver owes, you may end up going to court. Reaching out to a legal team for a free case consultation can help you learn what the process would look like in your state and whether or not a court case makes sense for your specific situation.
Any car accident could cause your car insurance premium to increase when it comes time to renew your policy. But if you’re the at-fault driver in an accident, your insurance premium will likely increase more drastically. It may make sense to shop around to see if you can find an insurance company willing to offer you a better deal.
How Officials Determine Fault
So how is fault determined in a car accident? Generally, insurance adjusters determine who’s at fault in an auto accident by looking at a variety of factors, including:
- Local driving laws and regulations – These can include general laws, such as those requiring a driver to have a valid driver's license, maintain their vehicle’s safety features like breaks and taillights, and avoid driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They may also look at specific driving regulations at the site of a crash. For example, did one of the drivers run through a stop sign or make a left turn where one is prohibited?
- Evidence from the police report – It’s important to know how to get a police report for a car accident as insurance adjusters may look at evidence gathered by the police, such as witness statements or traffic cam footage. They may also consider whether or not a traffic ticket was issued in relation to the accident. A police report on a car accident doesn’t always include who an officer believes is responsible for the crash, but it can still contain useful evidence for insurance adjusters.
- Vehicle damage – The specific location and extent of the damage on any of the vehicles hit can help insurance adjusters piece together which driver is most at fault for the interaction.
- Negligent driver behaviors – Additionally, an insurance adjuster may also look at the driver's behavior when determining fault in a car accident case. Certain driver behaviors tend to indicate negligence, and thus may lead to an at-fault determination. Classic examples of negligent driving include texting while driving, speeding, violating a pedestrian’s right of way, rear-ending another vehicle, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or otherwise violating the rules of the road.
If your case goes to court, your car accident lawyer—and the lawyer of the other driver involved in the accident—will consider these elements when attempting to build a case about who’s at fault.
1Nolo. At-Fault Accidents: Driver Liability for Car Accidents. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-at-fault-for-a-car-accident.html#:~:text=When%20it%20comes%20to%20car,accident%2C%20you%20are%20at%20faul
2Nolo. At-Fault Accidents: Driver Liability for Car Accidents. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-at-fault-for-a-car-accident.html
3 U.S. News and World Report. How Much Does Insurance Go Up After an Accident? https://www.usnews.com/insurance/auto/car-insurance-increase-accident
4Nolo. At-Fault Accidents: Driver Liability for Car Accidents. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-at-fault-for-a-car-accident.html
Learning Your State’s Fault Laws
Some states have no-fault laws. If you’re in a no-fault state, you’re most likely required to carry no-fault car insurance, also known as personal injury protection coverage.
If someone’s in a car accident in those states, their insurance company reimburses them for some or all of the costs of an accident, not the other driver, regardless of who caused the accident.5
No-fault states also tend to have more restrictions on when or if you can sue another driver after a car accident.6
No-fault states include:7
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
In a no-fault state, unless the accident is especially severe, you’ll likely only have to file an insurance claim with your own insurance company.
Some states may evaluate car accident fault based on comparative negligence. That means that if both parties are partly responsible for the accident, the person who’s the most at fault—or their insurance company—will reimburse the other driver for a portion of the costs incurred by the accident.
If, however, your state has contributory negligence laws, then a driver who’s even partially responsible for an accident may receive no reimbursements at all.8
Working with a legal team can help you understand what to expect in your specific situation—and how to best protect your finances going forward.
5Nolo. Car Accident Passenger Injury Claims in No-Fault States. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/car-accident-passenger-injury-claims-in-no-fault-states.html
6MoneyGeek. States With No-Fault Auto Insurance Laws. https://www.moneygeek.com/insurance/auto/no-fault-auto-insurance-states/
7MoneyGeek. States With No-Fault Auto Insurance Laws. https://www.moneygeek.com/insurance/auto/no-fault-auto-insurance-states/
8Nolo. At-Fault Accidents: Driver Liability for Car Accidents. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-at-fault-for-a-car-accident.html
Recovering from a Car Accident With Mighty
So, how do insurance companies determine fault? Most often, insurance adjusters will evaluate local driving laws, police reports, and vehicle damage to determine fault following an accident. That said, if you’ve been wrongly blamed, you can hire a lawyer to dispute your case. Knowing how and when to get an attorney for a car accident can benefit you from the beginning of the claim process to the settlement.
When you work with Mighty Law, you have a team behind you to navigate the most complex of situations—with fees 10% lower than the industry standard.
But legal aid isn’t the only thing we offer. Following an accident, we can help you understand your insurance policy, connect you with trusted healthcare providers, and explore your financial support options.
Take control of your future with Mighty.
MoneyGeek. States With No-Fault Auto Insurance Laws. https://www.moneygeek.com/insurance/auto/no-fault-auto-insurance-states/
Nolo. At-Fault Accidents: Driver Liability for Car Accidents. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-at-fault-for-a-car-accident.html
Nolo. Car Accident Passenger Injury Claims in No-Fault States. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/car-accident-passenger-injury-claims-in-no-fault-states.html
U.S. News and World Report. How Much Does Insurance Go Up After an Accident? https://www.usnews.com/insurance/auto/car-insurance-increase-accident
Nolo. At-Fault Accidents: Driver Liability for Car Accidents.
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