How Accident Fault is Determined by Police, Insurance, and the Courts
Determining who is at fault for a car accident is generally a matter of identifying who was careless, or “negligent”. In some car accident cases, it’s easy to tell which party acted carelessly and is therefore responsible for any property damage or injuries that may have occurred.
However, sometimes it can be very difficult to tell who was at fault for a car accident. Complicating things further is the fact that multiple entities might make a determination of fault after a car accident, including law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, and the courts.
This article will discuss how various determinations of fault after a car accident are made, and where you can turn for help if you have been injured in a car accident.
How Police Determine Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident
After a car accident is reported to the police, officers are responsible for preparing a police report about what happened.
A police officer will interview the drivers and any witnesses about the auto accident, asking a series of questions designed to piece together an accurate account of what occurred.
Once the police officer decides that he or she has enough information, they will submit their report to their department.
The police report may contain a statement about who was at fault for the auto accident based on the police officer’s professional judgment.
However, many police reports do NOT include a determination of fault . It’s important to understand that even if a police report states who was responsible for a car accident, this does not automatically mean that the person will be held legally responsible (or “liable”) for damages in a subsequent lawsuit.
As part of a police officer’s investigation into a car accident, he or she may issue one or more traffic citations.
A traffic citation is a notice issued by a law enforcement officer that accuses a driver of violating a traffic law such as exceeding the speed limit or making an unlawful turn. It may indicate that a penalty such as a fine or deduction of points has been or will be assessed against the driver.
A traffic citation may also require a driver to appear in traffic court. While a traffic citation will not ultimately prove who is legally responsible for a car accident in a subsequent lawsuit, it may be used as evidence that the driver was negligent. This will be discussed in greater detail below.
How Insurance Companies Determine Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident
Once a claim is filed with an insurance company after a car accident, the company assigns the claim to an adjustor. The adjustor oversees the investigation into the accident and the settlement of the insurance claim. Typically, there is more than one adjustor involved in this process, as each driver’s insurance company will select an adjustor to look into the car accident.
Adjustors research the car accident, speak with witnesses, look at medical reports, examine vehicle damage, and verify details about the insurance policies of the drivers involved like coverage amounts. Ultimately, the adjustors will determine who was at fault in the car accident, sometimes assigning a percentage of fault to each driver. The insurance companies will apportion the costs of the car accident based on this percentage, and will indemnify the drivers involved according to the terms of their insurance policies.
In general, insurance companies determine fault based on the legal definition of negligence in the state where the accident occurred. A person is negligent when he or she fails to exercise the amount of caution a reasonable person would under the same circumstances. For example, a driver who runs a red light and hits a car lawfully passing through an intersection on a green light is likely to be found negligent and is therefore at fault for the accident.
Texas courts rely on a legal rule known as modified comparative negligence, which may limit a driver’s ability to file a claim through the other party’s insurance company after a car accident. Under this rule, you can typically only recoup your losses if you’re found to be less than 51 percent at fault for the accident.
How Courts Determine Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident
If you a file a lawsuit after a car accident seeking to recover money for your injuries or damage to your vehicle, a court will determine who was at fault by considering whether the defendant was negligent. As discussed above, a person is negligent when he or she fails to take reasonable caution under the circumstances.
In deciding your case, a court will consider arguments from the parties’ lawyers, as well as various evidence presented by them. This might include testimony from the drivers involved in the car accident, people who witnessed the accident, police officers who investigated the accident, and experts such as doctors and accident reconstruction professionals.
Either a judge or a jury, depending on who is responsible for deciding the case, will determine based on the evidence whether the other driver was negligent and must pay you money to compensate you for your injuries and other losses as a result.
It is important to understand that police reports and determinations of fault by insurance companies do not control the outcome of a court case. The rules of evidence may prevent certain evidence from being introduced during trial, including police reports, which are generally considered hearsay. Moreover, different rules govern the legal determination of responsibility for a car accident, including precedent from prior cases in the jurisdiction where your case is being heard.
Another thing to keep in mind is that evidence of a traffic violation, such as a traffic citation, may persuade the court that the party who committed the violation was acting negligently and is therefore at fault for the accident. This concept is known as negligence per se, and can be very helpful to your case if you were injured by a driver who violated traffic laws.
Not sure who’s at fault? Talk to a qualified attorney.
A car accident is an overwhelming experience. Dealing with the police, insurance companies, and the possibility of a lawsuit can be difficult. If you have been injured in a lawsuit and are concerned about whether or not you were at fault, an experienced car accident lawyer can help. In addition to providing valuable information and legal advice, an auto accident attorney can help protect your rights and prevent your statements to the police and insurance companies from being used against you.