Car accidents are an unfortunate reality of modern life, but after you exchange insurance information, it is crucial to determine who is at fault. Establishing car accident fault is not only essential for resolving disputes between the involved parties but having fault determined also plays a significant role in auto insurance claims and potential legal consequences.
The process of determining fault in an auto accident can be complex, involving various factors and parties, such as law enforcement officers, insurance companies, and the courts.
What Does It Mean To Be “At Fault?”
“Fault” in a car accident refers to the responsibility assigned to a party involved in a collision due to their actions, negligence, or failure to adhere to traffic laws and regulations. Missouri is what’s known as an at-fault state when it comes to car accidents, but it also uses a standard of comparative negligence for allocating financial responsibility for accident-related expenses.
Several factors are considered when determining who is at fault after a car accident. These include physical evidence from the accident scene, witness statements, and the behavior of the drivers involved. For example, if a driver ran a red light or failed to yield to oncoming traffic, they might be held legally responsible for the accident.
The “Reasonable Person” Standard
When determining fault in an accident, the actions the drivers took are often compared to those of a “reasonable person” under the same circumstances. This legal definition is used to assess whether a driver’s actions were negligent or careless, thus contributing to the accident.
Ways To Determine Fault
Understanding who is at fault after a car accident helps establish which car insurance company will cover damages such as vehicle repairs, property damage, and medical expenses, and whether any legal actions need to be taken.
Traffic law plays a significant role in determining fault in a car accident. If the at-fault driver is found to have violated a traffic law, such as running a red light or failing to yield to oncoming traffic, they may be legally responsible for the accident. Accurately determining fault can be done in one of several ways.
The Drivers Involved May Decide
In some cases, the drivers in an accident may come to a mutual understanding regarding who is at fault. This usually occurs in minor accidents without much vehicle damage where the circumstances are clear, and one driver is quick to admit fault or claim responsibility.
Such agreements can potentially expedite the claims process and avoid unnecessary disputes. However, it is important to remember that any agreement between drivers is not legally binding and can be subject to change if the other party decides to pursue legal action.
The Police Report May Establish Fault
In the aftermath of a car accident, obtaining a police report is an essential step. This official document serves as a record of the incident and provides valuable information that can help in establishing fault in an accident.
While it alone may not be the sole deciding factor in establishing fault, it plays a crucial role in the process, as it often serves as the foundation upon which other decisions are made. Both insurance companies and courts may rely on police reports to help guide their own investigations.
Information Included in a Police Report
Police reports typically contain a wealth of information about the car accident, such as the date, time, and location the accident occurred, as well as details about the involved parties, such as names and auto insurance information.
The report may also contain statements from the other driver, passengers, and witnesses, descriptions of the vehicles involved, and a diagram of the accident scene. Importantly, the reporting law enforcement officer will also include their observations.
The Police Officer’s Observations
If the police officer responding to the car accident noted apparent traffic violations or signs of impairment, they will include those observations in the police report and may even provide their opinion on who was at fault. The reporting officer’s opinion on fault, while not necessarily binding, can carry weight in the eyes of insurance adjusters and the courts.
The Insurance Company May Investigate
After a car accident occurs, it’s essential to notify your own insurance company and provide them with detailed information about the incident. Your own insurer should work on your behalf to determine fault, negotiate with the insurance company of the other driver, and help you recoup expenses for vehicle repairs, medical expenses, and property damage.
Once an insurance claim is filed, your insurance company, as well as the other driver’s insurer, will likely launch an investigation. This may include reviewing the police report, collecting evidence, examining photographs of your car and the other driver’s vehicle, interviewing witnesses, and gathering statements from the drivers involved. Insurance companies aim to accurately determine who is at fault and establish the extent of each party’s responsibility.
The Role of a Claims Adjuster
During the investigation, car insurance companies often rely on a claims adjuster to help assess the circumstances of the accident. An insurance adjuster is a trained professional who determines fault by evaluating accident claims and liability.
They may visit the accident scene, inspect vehicle damage, and evaluate medical records related to injuries sustained in the collision. In some cases, insurance companies may also consult with accident reconstruction specialists or other experts.
After the Investigation
Once the investigation is complete, and all evidence has been examined, the car insurance companies will determine fault based on the findings. In some instances, fault may be distributed among multiple people if it is decided that more than one party was at fault. Your insurance policy will be paid out using this information.
What if Fault Cannot Be Determined?
In some cases, determining fault in a car accident based on the evidence may prove to be a challenge. This can occur for various reasons, such as a lack of sufficient evidence, conflicting witness statements, or the involvement of multiple vehicles.
In other instances, both parties may share responsibility for the accident, making it difficult for someone to be held legally responsible or to assign a specific percentage of fault to either driver.
Options for Resolution
In cases where fault cannot be established, there are still options available for resolution. One possibility is for the drivers to attempt to reach an agreement on their own, working together to find a fair and mutually acceptable solution.
Alternatively, mediation or arbitration can be pursued, which involves enlisting the help of a neutral third party to facilitate discussions and guide the parties toward a resolution. If all else fails, the matter may need to be taken to court.
Resolving Disputes Through Small Claims Court
If the involved parties cannot reach an agreement on fault or the insurance companies’ determinations are disputed, the matter may need to be resolved in court. In this setting, a judge or jury will assess the available evidence, hear arguments from both sides, and make a final decision on fault and liability.
Small claims court can be a viable option for individuals seeking a fair resolution in cases where fault is contested or not easily determined.
Understanding Different Fault Systems
There are various fault systems in place across the United States, which can impact the process of establishing fault and who is financially responsible for damages and injuries resulting from a car accident.
Missouri employs a standard of comparative negligence. Under this system, each party’s financial responsibility is based on their percentage of fault in the accident. Kansas, on the other hand, employs modified comparative negligence, which means that if a party’s fault exceeds fifty-one percent, they may be barred from recovering any compensation. This makes which side of the state line your accident took place a serious consideration.
Over a dozen states in the U.S., including Kansas, operate under something called a no-fault system. In no-fault states, each driver’s insurance company pays for their own insurance policyholder’s damages, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. This system is designed to streamline the claims process, reduce litigation costs, and ensure that accident victims receive compensation more quickly.
Advantages of No-Fault Systems
By reducing the need to determine fault for the accident, the claims process can be expedited for a no-fault car accident, allowing victims to receive compensation more quickly. This system also helps reduce the number of lawsuits and court costs associated with car accident disputes.
Disadvantages of No-Fault Systems
One of the main drawbacks is that drivers in no-fault states may not be fully compensated for their damages, especially in cases where one driver is clearly at fault. If you’re unlucky enough to get into a crash with a driver from a no-fault state, their insurance may be reluctant to pay damages, even if they caused the accident.
Determining Fault When Multiple Vehicles Are Involved
When more than two vehicles are involved in an accident, with more than two drivers, establishing fault can become more complicated. In such cases, fault may be spread among several parties, depending on each driver’s actions and adherence to traffic laws. It may require a more in-depth investigation by insurance adjusters, law enforcement, and personal injury lawyers to determine the appropriate allocation of fault.
When To Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
If a car accident has resulted in severe bodily injury or extensive property damage, auto accident attorneys can help ensure that victims receive fair compensation for their losses. Personal injury lawyers can help navigate the claims process and negotiate with the at-fault driver’s insurance on the victim’s behalf. There are certain scenarios in which having a lawyer is important.
Dispute Over Fault With the Other Driver
When there’s a dispute over who is at fault for the accident, a lawyer can help. An experienced Kansas City car accident attorney can help gather evidence, consult with experts, and build a strong case to prove your side of the story and ensure that you are not held unfairly responsible for the accident.
Insurance Company Offers an Unfair Settlement
Sometimes, your own insurance company or the other driver’s insurance may be uncooperative and offer an unfair settlement that does not adequately cover your losses, even if you had sufficient insurance coverage. Or perhaps, the at-fault driver’s liability coverage was not enough.
In these cases, a personal injury attorney can step in to negotiate with insurers on the client’s behalf. They can help ensure that the settlement offer is fair and accurately reflects the damages and losses incurred as a result of the accident.
Legal Deadlines and Complexities
Navigating the legal system can be overwhelming, especially for individuals who are dealing with the aftermath of a car accident. Personal injury attorneys are well-versed in the laws and regulations surrounding car accidents and can help their clients understand their rights and the appropriate steps to take. Additionally, they can help ensure that all legal deadlines are met, such as filing a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, which is crucial to protecting your right to seek compensation.
Determining fault in a car accident can be a complicated and stressful process for all parties involved. If your insurance claim has been handled unfairly or the other driver is disputing fault, contact Wendt Law Firm at 816-542-6734 to schedule your free consultation today.