How to Determine Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident

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Even though a car accident is a stressful situation, make sure to keep your wits about you after a crash. After making sure everyone is OK, including yourself, you need to take specific steps to prove you did not cause the accident.
When a car accident happens, insurance adjusters decide the at-fault party, which then determines whose insurance pays for damages. So, any evidence you can gather to support your side can help keep you from taking blame for an accident that was not your fault.
What exactly do adjusters look for when determining fault in an accident, and what can you do to help protect your side of the story?

Types of negligence in a car accident

When determining the at-fault driver of an accident, insurance adjusters look at any negligence on the part of everyone involved. Pretty straightforward in some instance, sometimes both drivers share some of the fault and end up sharing some of the responsibility for the accident. The following information details the different types of negligence and how they could come into play following an accident:
  • Comparative negligence: Some states allow drivers to share the blame and the responsibility from their respective insurance policies to cover part of the cost of property damage and personal injury that results from an accident. Comparative negligence allows drivers to seek compensation for damage or injuries suffered in an accident even if they are partially at fault. The amount you seek relates directly to the percentage of fault you share with the other driver.
  • Modified comparative negligence: Modified comparative insurance only allows drivers to see compensation when they are less than 50% at fault. Otherwise, your insurance bears the responsibility for paying any property or bodily injury costs associated with an accident.
  • Pure contributory negligence: Pure contributory negligence, sometimes just called contributory negligence, requires you to have no fault in an accident before you can receive any compensation for damages suffered.

Steps you can take after an accident to prove you’re not at fault

In order to collect on a car insurance claim, an insurance adjuster must rule that you bear no fault in an accident. To help this determination, you can take certain steps as detailed below:
  • Take photos: Take photographs of the accident scene using a smartphone if you have one. When doing so, make sure to watch out for other vehicles and avoid interrupting the flow of traffic. Also, do not interfere with the police in the middle of their investigation, but do get a copy of the police report to attach to your claim.
  • Get witness names and testimony: If any witnesses saw the accident, get their name and phone number, as well as any testimony that they have. A witness story can make a big difference, especially if the other driver tells a different story than what actually happened.
  • Never admit fault at the scene: Another great piece of advice? Never admit fault at the scene of the accident. Stick to the facts as they happened. Let the authorities and adjuster reach their own conclusion on where fault lies, even if you feel you caused the accident.

When to file a claim

Depending on the damage and who is at fault determines whether you should make a car insurance claim. For the most part, anytime the adjusters determine the other driver as the at-fault party, you should file, even for minor damage. In a case such as this, the other driver’s liability coverage should pay for any damages without you needing to pay a deductible. Other cases of when to, or when not to, file a claim include:
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Any uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage you carry should cover you if the other drivers’ liability insurance does not cover any or only part of the costs associated with an accident.
  • Sharing fault: When both drivers share fault, you should file a claim with both yours and the other driver’s insurance. Once the adjusters determine the at-fault driver, you should receive coverage from one or both policies.
  • Bodily injury claims: For bodily injury, make sure to file a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or MedPay claim to cover any costs that you or the other driver’s insurance doesn’t.
  • Deductible: When it comes to deductibles, only file a claim for an at-fault accident if the cost for fixing the damage costs more than the deductible. If you can live with the damage or absorb the cost of fixing it yourself, that can save you from an increase in your car insurance premium.
When driving a car, make sure that you have the proper coverage, including liability, comprehensive, and collision insurance. You should also keep an appropriate amount of MedPay or PIP coverage to pay for any medical costs from an accident.