Determining fault (liability, negligence) in a motor vehicle accident may seem like a cut and dry situation because the person that caused the accident is normally assumed to be the negligent party. However, many times it can be extremely difficult to determine the at fault party. To complicate matters further, there are multiple entities such as law enforcement, insurance companies and the court system that all must make their own determination as to whom is responsible for the accident. Below we will examine how each entity determines fault in a motor vehicle collision.
Normally, the first interaction you have besides gathering information from the other party involved in the collision is with law enforcement. The police officer at the scene will interview both the drivers and witnesses and survey the scene until they believe that they have gathered enough information to determine fault. Once the officer has completed this process, they will then decide who is the responsible party and submit a police report. However, just because the police officer has concluded which party is at fault, it does not necessarily mean that the other driver will be held legally responsible for damages caused by the collision.
At some point after the collision, you will be in contact with your own insurance company or possibly the other driver’s insurance company. It is important to remember that no insurance company, even your own, is ever truly looking out for your best interest. So, always be aware that anything you tell an insurance company that is not helpful to your claim, can and will be used against you. After speaking to all the parties involved in the collision, the insurance companies will determine who was at fault for the accident. When it comes to fault determination usually it is decided that one party or the other will be determined to be at fault, however, this is not always the case. Sometimes insurance companies will assign fault among some or all the drivers involved in the collision including you. Thus, if the other party caused the collision, you must clearly and consistently relay that information to the insurance company and never waver from that fact.
At any point during the determination of fault process it may be necessary to hire an attorney. As a rule, the earlier you involve an attorney, the better protected your rights will be throughout the process as they will be able to guild you through the traps and pitfalls that arise. For example, if you hire an attorney after fault has been determined by the insurance company, the attorney may contact the insurance company and discuss how they arrived at their liability decision as well as adding any statements or other evidence they have obtained in support of your position. Your attorney is there to represent your interests and present evidence that supports your position when it comes to all aspects of your claim including fault determination.
It is important to remember that police reports and insurance companies’ decisions as to fault ARE NOT legally binding determinations of negligence or fault. Only the court can make the final and legal determination of fault in a collision. Ultimately, if an agreement cannot be reached as to whom is at fault for a collision it will be up to a judge or jury to make that determination.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and are going through this process, it may be time to speak with a qualified attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney will not only be able to protect your rights but will also be there to help and guide you through the claims process as well as any litigation or a trial concerning the collision.