Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to prove fault when dealing with a car accident?
After an automobile accident, it is imperative to determine who is at fault – that way, insurance companies can figure out where to send the bills. This allocation of blame allows for the law and insurance systems to flow as smoothly as they can (which, as many argue, isn't very smooth at all).
However, assigning responsibility is often not so simple a task as a police officer arriving on the scene, eyeing the people involved and saying, "All right! You there, the guilty-looking one! It's time to pay up!" And then there's the case of driverless cars, too.
In fact, some accident cases will slog on for years as they fight over the issue of who's at fault.
There will always be some degree of fault for you to prove. Luckily, however – if there is to be some luck in these unhappy scenarios – there are some situations in which proving fault is taken out of your hands almost entirely.
There will always be some point of contention designed to mitigate circumstances, like the sun being in the driver's eyes or some kind of medical spasm that has since disappeared because he's made a miraculous recovery.
However, if one of the following circumstances plays out in your favor, you will have much less to prove than the defendant will.
Assigning fault in a car wreck is clear-cut when one party has clearly broken traffic laws.
Violations can include speeding, failure to yield, running a stop sign and a number of other specific issues. Since state and local laws vary, determining whether violations apply in your situation may require some research online or at your local DMV.
The codes and regulations governing your traffic incident will be on the books, so you can look them up in the library or online. However, it might be difficult for you to understand the meanings and requirements of the different provisions – especially if each has filing requirements in the trial court, each with its own deadlines – which means you might want to enlist the help of a qualified auto accident attorney.
If you wish to represent yourself, look up the exact motor vehicle statute in question and use the verbiage when talking with the claims adjuster at the insurance company. Not only will you sound confident and knowledgeable, but you will also be taken more seriously.
Many smaller traffic violations are things that can be handled over the phone, and claims adjusters want to know what happened as concisely and quickly as possible.
The only caveat here?
Don't cite the wrong statute. Nothing makes you look sillier than talking about an entirely different vehicle law and sounding self-assured while you do so.
Proving fault is often simple and straightforward in cases of "no doubt" liability, including rear-end collisions and left-turn impacts.
These can be potentially deadly crashes for the plaintiff, resulting in serious vehicle and bodily damage. Because they have little ability to escape from the collision, liability is heaped almost entirely upon the defendant.
In rear-end collisions, the law supports the driver in front. Drivers who rear-end another motorist are automatically assumed to be at fault in most cases. Most situations that involve rear-end collisions show this to be true.
This applies whether or not the defendant was driving incredibly close to his bumper (known as "tailgating"), as someone might do when frustrated by a slow driver in traffic. The idea is that the rear driver should know to fall back and leave a few car lengths in between him and the front driver in case they need to stop suddenly.
This rule even applies if the front driver is stopped in traffic and the gap is minuscule.
However, there are certain instances in which the driver in front of a rear-end collision is liable. For instance, the driver in front may face challenges if they were negligent by failing to maintain brake lights and other systems, or if they illegally parked in a highway lane.
When a car going straight is struck by a car making a left turn, it's assumed that the turning driver entered the intersection without sufficient space and time to make the turn.
These auto accidents are identifiable by the specific damage caused to both cars. The turning driver will typically have damage on the front of their car, while the other automobile's damage will often appear on the front-right side.
As with rear-end collisions, the straight-traveling driver may still hold some liability in a left-turn accident if they are found to have run a red light or exceeded the speed limit.
If you are unsure of your level of fault, an auto accident attorney can help you understand your potential liability and help you take steps to protect yourself.
Before pursuing any legal action following a car wreck, be sure to obtain a copy of the police report. This will not only tell you if the responding officer cited the other driver for any violations, but it will also sometimes include the officer's own thoughts on the cause of the crash. If the other driver was, in fact, at fault, then the police report can be your most valuable tool in proving that liability and protecting your own interests.
Most police reports will contain both parties' versions of the crash, as well as the officer's personal observations and those of witnesses. Much of the time, witnesses will be impossible to reach again or will leave the state, and what they say in the report will be their only testimony. Make sure to get their contact information if you can, because you are definitely going to need it.
Of course, this doesn't mean an officer will always show up to the scene of an accident.
If that's the case, you will want to get to the closest police station as soon as possible after an accident. After all, a police report is you and the defendant recounting the story of what happened to an officer, who writes it down on paper. The officer will then ask witnesses to back up what you and the defendant said.
If the officer is MIA, you can ask the defendant to join you at the station as well, though you can't make them go with you if they don't wish to. Regardless, this request will show you are observant, conscientious and ready to take the necessary steps to secure your compensation. Insurance companies are far less likely to pay damages if there isn't a police report on file.
Make sure to check the report for factual inaccuracies.
If the error is something like a time or place mistake, that can be easily fixed. If the error is something bigger, though, like who was at fault, correcting this mistake will require forms and bureaucracy. Each station likely has their own procedures for fixing errors, so it's best to consult with an attorney in order to streamline the process.
In addition to the police, a mechanic or body shop may also be helpful in proving who is at fault. Their assessment of the damage to your car can help illustrate points of impact, speed of the impacting vehicle and other important details about the wreck. Make sure to have everything documented for your attorney and don't forget to keep copies for yourself.
This is a common law defense that states if 2 people were in an accident, the injured person could recover only if they were absolutely not at fault. This was called the "1% rule" and is now called "pure contributory negligence."
Most states have moved away from this standard because it's quite strict. In fact, only 5 jurisdictions still adhere to this system: Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.
In this system, an injured person can still recover even if they were partially responsible for the accident. Their recovery might be reduced depending on how responsible he was, though. States using a comparative negligence system assign a percentage of fault to each party, and this is where it breaks down further into 3 branches:
In the pure comparative negligence system, which 13 states currently follow, a percentage of fault is assigned to each party and then damages are split accordingly. That way an injured person can recover damages even if they were 99% at fault in causing the accident, though their damages would be reduced by their degree of fault (so it might not be worth filing a claim if you were 99% at fault).
With modified comparative fault (50% rule), which 12 states follow, an injured person can only recover if their fault in causing the accident is 50% or less. The remaining 21 states follow the 51% rule, which means that plaintiffs can only recover damages if they are 51% or less at fault.
As you can see, there are many important liability considerations at the state level when pursuing car accident damages, and contacting a state-specific attorney is highly recommended. Attorneys who specialize in motor vehicle law can be an invaluable resource because they understand the legal details and nuances that are found in each state.