What Is an At-Fault Accident?

Being at fault for an accident means you and your insurance company are responsible for compensating affected drivers' damages and expenses.
Written by Kathryn Kurlychek
Edited by Amy Bobinger
If a driver causes an accident due to negligence or unsafe driving, they are considered "at fault" and are responsible for compensating other affected drivers for damages and medical expenses.
  • You may be determined at fault if you caused an accident while speeding, driving distracted, driving under the influence. 
  • Insurance adjusters determine fault based on various evidence, such as statements from drivers and witnesses, police reports, accident scene evidence, and more.
  • In "no-fault states," drivers are typically compensated by their own insurance companies, regardless of who caused the collision—however, victims may still be able to seek full compensation by filing a claim or a lawsuit against you. 

You can be found “at fault” if you cause an accident

An "at-fault accident" refers to a collision that occurs due to a driver's failure to exercise proper care and caution. If you’re found at fault for an accident, you (along with your insurance company) bear the responsibility of compensating other drivers who were affected for any damages, losses, and medical expenses. 
Drivers may be found at fault for an accident for:
  • Driving while drinking/under the influence of drugs
  • Speeding
  • Driving while distracted (e.g. texting while driving)
  • Failing to obey traffic signals or rules of the road
  • Following another vehicle too closely (“tailgating”)
  • Failing to yield to right of way

Insurance adjusters determine fault after an accident

In most cases, the insurance companies of the drivers involved in the crash assign insurance adjusters to your case to determine fault after an accident. If the matter goes to court instead of being handled by insurance, the court will decide who is at fault. 
Insurance companies look at multiple forms of evidence to determine fault after a car accident. 
These include: 
  • Statements from drivers or witness statements from observers
  • Police report of the accident
  • Photos and videos from the crash scene
  • Evident from the accident scene (such as car parts, skid marks on the road, etc.)
  • The type and location of damage
  • Dashcam footage
  • Citations after accident

Accidents are handled differently in no-fault states

Every state has its own car insurance laws—and if you live in one of 12 “no-fault states,” you may notice accidents are handled a little differently:
  •  In a no-fault state, drivers who are involved in an accident typically receive compensation from their own insurance company for any medical bills, regardless of who caused the collision.
  • This differs significantly from at-fault states, where damages like medical bills and lost wages are paid by the at-fault driver (or their insurance). 
As a result, drivers in no-fault states typically have to carry higher minimum amounts of car insurance, including
personal injury protection (PIP)
. In some cases, if the victim's injuries are severe, they can still file a lawsuit against the other driver to seek full compensation for all the same damages available in an at-fault state.

More than one driver can be found at fault

Sometimes, more than one driver can be found at fault in an accident. Here’s an example of how that might work: 
Imagine there are two drivers: Driver A and Driver B. Driver A is exhibiting unsafe driving behavior, including speeding and running a stop sign. Driver B was going the speed limit, but paying more attention to adjusting their radio than looking at the road—and winds up in a collision with Driver A. 
While Driver A might be found 80% responsible for the accident, Driver B could still be assigned 20% fault. The way this is handled will ultimately depend on your state’s fault laws:
  • Contributory negligence: In states with contributory negligence laws, a driver who is found even partly responsible for causing the accident cannot be compensated by other drivers involved in the crash. 
  • Pure comparative fault: In states with pure comparative fault laws, victims can always pursue compensation, even if they were mostly to blame. For example, if a driver is found 75% at fault, they would still be able to claim 25% of your damages. 
  • Modified comparative fault: In states with modified comparative fault laws, drivers who are partly responsible for their own injuries can recover compensation for a portion of damages—so long as the other driver was found at least 50–51% at fault for the accident. 
The table below takes a closer look at negligence laws in each state. 
Negligence law
Pure comparative
Modified comparative
Slight-gross comparative negligence

If you’re found at fault, the other driver has limited time to file a lawsuit

Like car insurance laws, time limits for filing a car insurance claim or lawsuit can vary by state. In most cases, the statute of limitations for filing a claim or lawsuit lasts anywhere from 2–4 years. 
Insurance claims from other drivers can typically be settled out of court—but if a lawsuit is brought against you following an accident you caused, be sure to hire an experienced traffic attorney. 

Your insurance rates will likely go up for 3-5 years after an accident where you were at fault

Expect your
car insurance rates
to go up by an average of about 15% after an at-fault accident.
Most car insurance companies will
add a surcharge
to your policy following an at-fault accident. But even after the surcharge is removed, it may take longer before you once again qualify for good driving discounts—so your rates may still be higher than before. 
The best way to handle higher rates after an at-fault accident is by shopping for quotes. Comparing quotes from multiple insurers is the best way to find affordable coverage—and online comparison tools like
make the process even easier by collecting quotes on your behalf. 
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Yes. Whereas
liability insurance
only offers protection to other drivers if you cause an accident, full coverage insurance policies include extra protections like
collision coverage
, which helps cover the cost of repairs to your own vehicle.
An at-fault accident will typically remain on your insurance record for at least three to five years. 
During this time, you may experience policy surcharges that lead to higher insurance costs—and even after the surcharge is removed, you may still receive slightly higher rates than you previously did. The best way to keep your insurance costs low after an at-accident is by shopping for quotes with multiple car insurance companies. 
If you were recently determined at fault for a car accident, you may be able to dispute the insurance adjusters’ decision—but doing so could result in the case being taken to court. Even in cases where it seems obvious who made the mistake, insurance companies still look to deny a claim based on fault. So be sure to consider what you’re willing to pay and hire an experienced traffic attorney to represent you in court. 
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