In almost all car, bike, or motorcycle accidents, it's important to prove who was liable or responsible, that is: who made the mistake or was negligent. It may seem obvious to those who were there, but proving fault in a car crash isn't always so simple for insurance companies. You make a stronger argument to your insurer if you can support your side of the story with evidence.
The following information will help you prove fault in a car accident and ultimately strengthen your case.
Car Accidents and Police Reports
Police don't always come to the scene of an accident, but if they do, the officer will probably have to make some sort of official report about the accident. The police generally come to accidents that involve injuries, but they often stop at non-injury accidents as well. If they do show up at your accident, be sure to ask the officer for the report number and how to get a copy of the report once it's filed.
Sometimes police officers don't show up at an accident. In places where police resources are limited, the parties often have to report the accident to the closest police station if injuries or significant property damage have occurred. After filing a police report, investigators may pick up your report and conduct their own inquiries. You can obtain copies of these reports.
Police reports are the written recollections of the officer that studied the accident. These reports often contain great evidence about liability, such as the officer's opinion that one car was speeding based on the officer's observations of the length of the skid-marks. Officers also often indicate whether they issued any traffic tickets at the scene of an accident.
The police report can be one of the most important pieces of evidence you present to your insurance company. Insurance companies may drag their feet about issuing car accident liability reports without first obtaining a copy of the police report.
Amending a Police Report
If there's a mistake in a police report, it can be fixed. If the mistake involves a factual error, like incorrect vehicle or insurance information, you can generally amend the report by showing the police that information.
However, amending a disputed fact, like fault determination, is much more difficult.
Police departments often have different procedures for objecting to a report. You should contact the department involved in your accident to learn about their procedure. In many cases, you simply add your statement to the accident report. While it's difficult to overcome a fault determination, it's not impossible. You should consult with an accident attorney to determine the strength of your case.
Proving Fault in a Car Crash: State Traffic Laws
State traffic laws, often called the vehicle code, are another great place to find support for your argument that the other driver was at fault. These laws are often condensed into simple-to-read "Rules of the Road" that may be at your local DMV. You can also find many vehicle codes online at various state government websites, public law libraries, and in FindLaw's Codes section.
After you've found the law that applies to your accident, you're in a better position to negotiate with your or the other driver's insurance company. For example, a code relating to yielding the right of way may be useful for a merging accident. Have the exact wording of the code, as it won't help you to cite a law incorrectly to an insurance company.
No-Fault Car Accident Liability
Certain kinds of accidents will almost always be one driver's fault. In these situations, insurance companies rarely argue about which driver is responsible and will most likely attempt to settle immediately.
Fault in Rear-End Accidents
Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of accidents. If a car hits you from behind, it'll almost never be your fault, even if you were stopped. One basic driving rule is that you're supposed to leave enough room in front of your car to stop when the car in front of you stops suddenly. If the driver behind you couldn't stop, they probably weren't driving safely.
When one car's rear end is damaged and another car's front end is damaged, there really isn't much to argue about who hit who. But the driver who hit you may have a claim against a third-party driver that caused you to stop suddenly or the car behind them that pushed them into your car. This doesn't affect their liability for the damage to your car.
There are some rare and limited exceptions, including accidents on inclines wherein your car may have rolled back as a result of failure to apply brakes or clutch, or accidents where you may have accelerated your car while mistakenly leaving the shifter in the reverse (rather than drive) position.
Although another driver was probably at fault, you may also be partially at fault if your negligence contributed to the accident. For example, if your brake lights were out or you had a flat tire and decided to stop in the middle of the road, you may also bear some comparative negligence which will reduce your monetary compensation.
Similarly, left turn accidents are almost always the fault of the driver taking the left turn. Cars coming straight into an intersection will have the right of way in most cases, making the car turning left responsible for the accident.
If the car going straight through the intersection is speeding or runs a red light, this may shift some or all of the liability away from the car turning left. Rarely, if the car started turning left while it was safe to do so, but was forced to stop because of some unforeseen circumstance, then some of the liability may be shifted.
Have Questions About Proving Fault in a Car Crash? Ask an Attorney
While minor fender-benders typically can be resolved simply by exchanging insurance information, even minor accidents can sometimes result in serious injuries. If you've been injured in a car accident, consult with a local car accident attorney to learn about your legal options. If you have a valid claim, many attorneys will wait until you have settled your case to collect their fees.