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Determining Liability After a Car Accident

Car accidents can send ripples through your life, leading to physical, emotional, and financial turmoil. Understanding liability by figuring out who's at fault becomes the cornerstone of post-accident procedures. Determining liability directly influences the compensation you're eligible to receive for your car accident injuries.

This article explains the many aspects of determining liability to help you during your car accident case. It covers comparative and contributory negligence while also addressing how to interpret your insurance policy.

Understanding the Basics of Fault

In most car accident scenarios, the term at fault refers to the person whose negligence or carelessness led to the accident.

In general, the at-fault driver's auto insurance company bears the burden of covering medical expenses, vehicle damage, and other related costs. However, several factors can influence or even complicate this seemingly straightforward process.

Comparative and Contributory Negligence

Sometimes, both drivers involved in an auto accident might share the blame. Depending on the scenario, this is called either comparative negligence or contributory negligence

Under the principle of contributory negligence, you may be barred from recovering damages if you contributed at all to an accident. Even if you are only considered 1% responsible, under contributory negligence you'd get nothing.

In contrast, the principle of comparative negligence only limits the extent to which you can recover damages.

Suppose, for example, one driver is deemed 60% responsible and the other 40%. Applying the principle of comparative negligence, an insurance settlement might reflect these percentages. Understanding this principle is essential as it can affect the outcome of your personal injury claim.

Two drivers, Alex and Mia, are at an intersection. Alex speeds up a little to make it through a yellow light. At the same time, Mia doesn't fully stop at her red light and moves into the intersection. The two drivers collide.

Both drivers made mistakes. Alex shouldn't have sped up, and Mia should have come to a complete stop. After reviewing the accident, it's decided Alex is 60% at fault for speeding, and Mia is 40% at fault for not stopping. If the two had damages to pay, Alex would pay more than Mia because Alex is more responsible for the accident.

This situation shows comparative negligence in action. Both drivers had a part in the accident, and their responsibility (or fault) is divided between them based on their actions.

When Car Owners Become Liable for an Accident

While drivers are often the primary focus after a car accident, scenarios exist where a car owner can be held responsible.

If you lend your vehicle to a friend, family member, or even another known acquaintance who then has an accident, you could be held liable under the concept of negligent entrustment. The chances for this increase if you were aware of the borrower's poor driving history beforehand.

Suppose you have a friend named Jamie. Everyone knows Jamie isn't a very good driver. He's had several accidents and gotten numerous speeding tickets.

If let Jamie borrow your car and he causes an accident, you could be held legally responsible since you knew Jamie wasn't a good driver but still let him use your car. If you're thinking of letting someone borrow your car, think about how well they drive before doing so.

Decoding Your Car Insurance Policy

The type and extent of your car insurance play an important role in determining compensation after a car accident. Liability insurance primarily covers damages to another motorist, encompassing both bodily injuries and property damage. 

If an uninsured or underinsured driver hits you, you might need to turn to your insurance policy for coverage.

Let's break down car insurance like it's a game with different levels.

The Insurance Game's Main Objective

When you get car insurance, you're buying protection. If you're in a car accident, this protection helps pay for things like car repairs or doctor visits, so you don't have to spend all your savings.

Level 1 - Liability Insurance

Imagine this as your basic shield in the game. If you cause an accident, this shield helps pay for the other person's car repairs and medical bills. Your liability insurance steps in when you hit someone's car.

Level 2 - Collision and Comprehensive Insurance

Continuing with the game analogy, think of collision and comprehensive insurance as an upgrade to your basic shield. Collision insurance helps pay for repairs to your car if you hit something like another car or a tree. On the other hand, comprehensive insurance is like a magic cloak that protects your car from things out of your control, like theft, hailstorms, or even a deer running into the road.

Level 3 - Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Not all players in this imaginary game follow the rules. Some drivers don't have insurance (uninsured) or don't have enough insurance (underinsured). If one of them hits you, your uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is like a backup plan. It helps pay for your car's damages and medical bills if the other driver can't.

Bonus Tools - Medical Payments and Personal Injury Protection

Imagine medical payment and personal injury protection as health potions in this game analogy. They help pay for medical expenses, no matter who caused the accident. They can even cover other costs, like if you can't work for a while because of the accident.

Reading Your Insurance Policy

Every car insurance policy comes with a declaration page. This page is like a game manual. It lists:

  • All your coverages
  • How much protection you have
  • How much you pay for your coverage

Make sure to read and understand the declaration page. If it's confusing, ask your insurance agent to explain it to you.

With car insurance, the goal is to have enough protection so that if accidents happen, you'll have peace of mind. It's all about being prepared and knowing what your insurance does for you. If you have questions, a car accident lawyer or insurance agent can help.

Document Everything: Building a Strong Case

Post-accident, keep detailed records. Whether it's photographs of the car crash scene, medical bills, or even a diary detailing daily pain levels and challenges, evidence can bolster your claim. Always keep a copy of the police report and any other related documentation.

Think of your accident like a story you have to tell. The more details and proof you have to offer, the easier it will be for others to understand and believe your story.

Time Is of the Essence: The Statute of Limitations

You can't waste time after an accident. Each state has a statute of limitations that restricts the timeframe within which you can file a personal injury lawsuit. Missing this window can mean forfeiting your right to compensation.

The exact time you get to file a lawsuit depends on where you live. Each state has its own rules. For car accident claims, many states give you between two to four years from the date of the accident. That means if you got into an accident on January 1st, 2024, and your state has a two-year statute of limitations, you'd have until January 1st, 2026, to start your lawsuit.

It's important to know the time limit in your state. If you have any questions, it's a good idea to ask a car accident lawyer.

Seek Legal Advice for Your Car Accident Claim

The maze of insurance policies, legal jargon, and intricate laws can be overwhelming. This is where a personal injury lawyer or car accident attorney steps in. From advising on insurance claims to representing accident victims in court, their help can be invaluable. They'll provide clarity on your legal rights, help you understand potential compensation, and ensure your rights are protected every step of the way.

Motor vehicle accidents are stressful. However, armed with the right knowledge and a reliable personal injury attorney, you can take legal action and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

Learn About Who Is Liable?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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