Car Accident Liability
Car accident injuries can range from devastating multi-car pileups to fender benders with delayed soft tissue injuries. Regardless of the type of accident, FindLaw's Car Accident section contains helpful information and resources you can reference if you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident.
Articles cover topics such as first steps after an accident, how to prove (or avoid) fault, car insurance claims, contributory negligence in car accident cases, and tips on hiring a car accident attorney to help protect your legal rights. You will also find links to product recalls relating to automobiles, driving safety, crash statistics, and more.
After an Accident
When a car accident happens there are things you should do regardless of who was at fault. These activities are focused on documenting the incident to ensure you are fairly compensated and avoiding acts that might create or increase your liability for the incident.
Documenting an accident includes calling the police, exchanging information, talking to witnesses, contacting your insurance company, taking pictures, getting property damage valuations, and documenting your medical treatment. Actions that reduce liability include staying at the scene of the accident, checking on all drivers and passengers, and exercising caution and restraint when discussing the incident.
FindLaw's pamphlet on first steps after an auto accident can be printed and stored in your automobile to help ensure that you don't create trouble and expense for yourself, miss an opportunity to gather evidence, or undermine your attempts to be compensated for an accident.
Proving Fault in a Crash
Insurance companies are interested in determining who was to blame for a car accident. They make that determination based on some specific considerations, and understanding how liability is determined can help ensure that you don't end up footing the bill for someone else's mistakes. The police officer's report of the incident, state traffic laws, and the type of accident can all figure heavily in the insurance company's decision.
The Police Report
If a police officer responds to the scene of the accident, they will likely file an incident report, especially if there were injuries. The report includes their observations at the scene and whether either party received a citation. Obtaining a police report can help prove your version of events and help settle insurance disputes.
Once you have a copy of the report, you can also see if the report has any errors. Factual errors can be corrected if you have evidence that shows the officer was mistaken. Other errors involving the officer's opinions can be more difficult to have removed or changed, though it is often possible to add your statement to the record. You may call the officer and politely discuss your concern about what was entered in the report and ask if they would consider making an amended report. Typically, only the drivers may make this request.
Talking to the Insurance Company
Insurance companies may ask to take your statement and to record your answers. This is not to be taken lightly, and you should be prepared and careful about how you describe the incident. Write down what you think is important about the incident and make sure it is added to the statement if the adjuster does not ask. You may wish to consult with an attorney before agreeing to give the statement. Remember, the statement may be used against you later if the case moves to a lawsuit.
State traffic laws, like right of way, can also impact fault determinations. Also, some kinds of accidents are highly suggestive of fault. Rear-end collisions are very common, and if you are hit from behind, the other driver will generally be held responsible. Similarly, a driver making a left-turn will likely be held responsible in the case of an accident because the cars in the lane they cross generally have the right of way.
A common scenario is where both drivers claim to have the green light. In intersection accidents controlled by stop lights it is very important you clearly state you had the green light if that is the case. Witnesses and video from area businesses are critical in these disputes. Some cities have cameras posted that may have recorded the accident. You may consider purchasing a dash cam; they can be very helpful in accident disputes.
Fault in a vehicle accident can be a complicated issue. In some jurisdictions fault may even be split between parties. A knowledgeable attorney can help prepare and present your case to ensure that you are appropriately compensated or effectively defended.
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