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Traffic Accident Liability: FAQ

Breaking traffic laws risks more than a ticket. You also risk causing an accident, and the insurance company might say you're at fault for the damage. In this situation, you could face two sets of consequences. Though a traffic ticket is usually minor, the penalties may be steeper if it leads to a severe or fatal accident.

Learn about how car accident liability and traffic violations affect what happens after a collision in this article.

How do traffic laws affect accident liability?

Breaking a traffic law is more likely to make you liable for a crash. When deciding who's at fault in a car accident case, insurance adjusters look at what each driver did that made the situation risky.

Every state sets traffic laws to keep everyone safe. Breaking them means you were not driving safely. Accidents can happen by chance without a specific traffic violation, but unlawful driving can increase the chance of causing a collision.

Is traffic accident liability ever automatic?

In some cases, the type of motor vehicle accident automatically reveals who is at fault.

The driver that rear-ends another car is usually always at fault for a rear-end collision. Every driver should be able to stop safely when the vehicle in front of them stops. Following too closely is considered unsafe driving.

There are exceptions in some cases. For example, if a car hits a van behind you, it might force the van to hit the back of your vehicle. Liability for the accident rests with the driver of the car in the back.

In left turn accidents, fault is also automatic. The law says the driver turning left must wait for oncoming vehicles to pass and only turn when it's safe. That means the driver making the turn is often at fault.

Left turn automatic liability might not apply if:

  • The other driver was speeding
  • The other driver went through a red light
  • You were safely turning when an unexpected event occurred, causing the car to slow down or stop turning

If an insurance company automatically assigns fault to you, you can work with a car accident attorney to defend yourself. You can use evidence to explain whether there were other factors at play.

Can I get a ticket after a car accident claim?

Filing a car accident claim with an insurance company does not automatically lead to getting a ticket. Police officers who respond to the crash could give drivers a traffic citation, but insurers do not.

Sometimes, the police issue a traffic ticket at the accident scene. Otherwise, they might mail it to you a few days later. If the ticket was an error, you can challenge it with an attorney's help.

Your insurance claim is a separate process. Insurance providers determine which driver caused the crash to decide how to award compensation. They do not decide legal penalties for breaking the law.

Does getting a traffic ticket mean I'm at fault?

No, getting a ticket does not always automatically indicate fault. An at-fault driver could get a ticket for unlawful driving. However, fault is based on how the crash happened rather than who got a ticket.

Both drivers in an accident could break traffic law in some cases. For example, you were driving with a broken tail light. You were heading into an intersection where you had the right of way. Another driver didn't stop to check both ways at their stop sign. They sped into your lane and caused a T-bone accident. Your broken tail light did not cause the crash, but you might get a ticket.

Insurance liability and traffic violations don't always match. Law enforcement could say both drivers broke the law in the above example. In most states, only the driver who didn't stop would be liable in the eyes of insurance companies.

Insurers might say you have comparative negligence or contributory negligence if your traffic violation partially caused the accident. Partial fault can affect how much money your claim is worth and your option to file a personal injury claim.

Getting a minor ticket would not typically change the outcome in no-fault states. Both drivers seek compensation from their own personal injury protection coverage. Only a more serious criminal offense like drunk driving could affect car accident liability.

Do I have to report a traffic accident to my insurance company?

A person is not required to report an accident to their insurance company. Reporting an at-fault crash could raise the rates of your car insurance policy. If you don't choose to report the crash, you cannot file a claim to help pay the damages.

Some drivers prefer to settle the costs without involving their insurers when the property damage is minor. However, a driver might change their mind later and want to send a claim to the insurance company. Without an accident report, the insurer may no longer have evidence to assess liability.

You may still need to report the crash to law enforcement. Motorists must file a police report if personal injuries or property damage reach a specific level depending on state laws.

Is it better to drive away if I was at fault?

No, leaving an automobile accident scene too soon is illegal. Witnesses and traffic cameras often catch the license plates of drivers who flee the scene.

hit-and-run accident is a crime. The penalties for driving away from the scene of the accident can be harsher than the original traffic violation and insurance consequences. Jail time and driver's license revocation are possible outcomes in most states. The penalties depend on the exact circumstances of the crash and state laws.

Instead, you can take a few steps after a car crash to protect yourself, such as:

  • Check whether anyone needs urgent medical treatment for serious injuries
  • Exchange contact information with the other driver
  • Take photos of any vehicle damage

You might worry about the possible medical bills and other costs. Liability insurance can help pay for these expenses based on your policy's coverage.

Get Advice From a Car Accident Lawyer

Auto accidents can involve complex legal questions. Speak with an experienced traffic ticket attorney in your area to get answers about liability and your driving record. If you suffered injuries in a crash, a personal injury lawyer can help you with insurance and compensation.

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