Proving Fault in Accidents
Although you would like it to be easy to prove fault for your accident, it's not always so simple. Whether it be a slip and fall, a car accident, or medical malpractice, claims can be challenging to prove. For a person or entity to pay for your injuries or property damage, you must be able to prove who the responsible or liable party is.
What follows are some general rules that may help you in proving fault for a car accident claim.
Legal Liability for Motor Vehicle Accidents
In most car crashes, there is going to be at least one at-fault party that is liable for any injuries. Generally, traffic law uses a simple rule to determine liability. If a person involved is less careful than another, the less careful person will have legal liability. They will be responsible for paying for at least some of the injuries and damages suffered by the accident victim.
In a negligence injury claim, the question is whether the defendant acted as a reasonable person would have in similar circumstances. Some simple rules can be easily applied to this concept of legal liability:
For a person to be liable to an injured person, there must be a duty of care between the two parties.
In comparative fault states, if the injured person was also partly responsible for their injuries (for example, acting recklessly by driving over the speed limit or running a red light and causing a rear-end collision), then their award for their personal injuries may be reduced by an amount equal to how much they contributed to their own accident.
If a person negligently injures another person while in the employ of another party, the employer may be responsible for the injuries sustained by the injured person if the employee was on the job at the time of the accident.
If the injuries are sustained while on property that is poorly maintained and dangerous, the owner of the property may be liable because they were negligent in maintaining that property.
If the injury was sustained because of a poorly made or defective product, the maker and seller of the product may both be liable. It is not the job of the injured person to determine where the defect was introduced.
More Than One Person at Fault
When multiple parties could potentially be responsible for an individual's injuries, establishing fault may require additional considerations. However, the existence of multiple at-fault parties can potentially enhance the injured person's opportunity to recover full damages.
In jurisdictions applying the principle of "joint and several liability," if the injured party successfully proves that multiple parties are at fault, the law can hold any or all of the negligent parties liable for the total amount of damages.
This offers a significant advantage to injured persons. It provides the flexibility to decide from whom to collect damages. However, this principle may only apply in some places. In some jurisdictions, defendants may only be responsible for damages equivalent to their percentage of fault.
If You Were Partly Responsible (Comparative Negligence)
There are circumstances where it is hard to say that another driver or person was entirely responsible for your injuries. In car accidents, often both the injured person and the other driver may be partly responsible.
In these cases, a rule known as comparative negligence is used. Under this rule, blame is apportioned to both drivers in percentage amounts. Any awards are reduced accordingly.
Still, there is no concrete formula that insurance companies use when determining fault. As with most things in life, determining the amount of blame that can be placed on you will probably come down to a negotiation. The claim adjuster for the insurance company may come to you with a percentage. You can either accept their determination or make an argument that their calculation is not correct.
State Laws Controlling Comparative Negligence
States can be broken down into three categories when it comes to comparative negligence:
- States that allow you to recover for your injuries and damages no matter how much you contributed to an accident
- States that prohibit an injured party from recovering if they were 50% or more responsible for an accident
In the most restrictive states, any type of recovery is barred if the injured party is at all responsible for the accident. In these states, an injured person will be prevented from recovering any damages if that person is even 1% responsible for an accident.
Evidence Collection for Car Accident Claims
Properly gathering and preserving evidence is vital to supporting your claim. It can be crucial in establishing who the at-fault driver is and the extent of your damages.
The accident report filled out by a police officer should include:
- Photos of the vehicles involved and their relative positions
- The damage incurred
- Skid marks
- The road conditions
- Traffic signs
- Any injuries you or any other parties sustained
These visuals can help to reconstruct the scene of the accident. They also demonstrate the impact severity and indicate potential traffic violations.
Police officers are trained to document accident scenes professionally. They provide an unbiased account of what transpired. They note any violations of traffic laws, identify witnesses, and often indicate whom they believe to be the at-fault party.
Requesting a copy of the police report is typically straightforward. This can be done at the local law enforcement office.
Witness Statements and Contact Information
Eyewitness accounts can often be a pivotal element in determining fault. Witnesses can provide a different perspective on how the accident unfolded. In complex situations, like left-turn accidents or multi-car pileups, their accounts can help clarify which actions led to the accident.
If possible, obtain the contact information of any witnesses at the scene. A personal injury lawyer or insurance adjuster may wish to ask them further questions. They may also use their testimony to support your claim.
Insurance Claims and Communication
The next important step is to notify your car insurance company. Depending on your insurance policy, it may provide coverage for accidents where you are partially or fully at fault.
If the other driver was at fault, your insurance company would likely seek compensation from the at-fault driver's insurance company. This process is known as subrogation.
Be cautious in your communication with any insurance company. Statements you make can be used to assess fault or the severity of your injuries. Avoid speculation or admitting any fault or liability until a car accident lawyer fully understands and analyzes the circumstances surrounding the accident.
Medical Expenses and Records
Medical evidence could substantiate your claim, especially if you sustained severe injuries. Document all your medical expenses and treatments, including:
- Doctor visits
- Hospital bills
Any assistive devices or home modifications needed for your recovery
These records help determine the financial damages you seek to recover. They also validate your claim of the severity and extent of your injuries. They could influence whether you are awarded damages for pain and suffering or long-term disability.
Involvement in a Fatal Accident
The tragic circumstance of a wrongful death resulting from a car accident often involves complex legal issues. The deceased's family may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for their loss.
This might include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral costs
- Lost future earnings
- Loss of companionship
- Emotional distress
A Car Accident Attorney Can Help
Proving fault often involves complex legal analysis. Sometimes there are multiple responsible parties. Some cases may benefit from an expert witness.
Learn more about your legal options by calling an injury law attorney today. A personal injury attorney can gather evidence and help you recover the costs of your medical bills after an auto accident.
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