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​Who Decides Who’s at Fault in a Car Accident?

In every city across America, it’s an everyday occurrence; one car hitting another. When this happens, who is at fault? Sometimes the answer isn’t apparent, and various parties may be the ones to decide at different stages. Fault might be determined at the accident scene, in a police report, by the car insurance companies covering the involved drivers, or even in a courtroom by a judge or a jury.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 5.25 million police-reported crashes in one recent year. These accidents resulted in approximately 2.28 million people injured and almost 39,000 fatalities.

Over 3.6 million of the crashes resulted in property damage only. Unfortunately, even accidents that only result in property damage can result in many headaches about who is at fault and which driver should pay the other’s damages.

If you or someone you love was recently involved in a motor vehicle accident, your life got much more complicated and stressful. However, the good news is that an experienced car accident lawyer and support you during this time, helping you seek compensation for your injuries.

Your attorney can determine who is at fault for your accident and work towards convincing the appropriate parties responsible for your damages that they need to offer you a full and fair settlement.

Possible Scenarios to Determine Who Is at Fault

The Drivers

The first scenario is that the drivers involved in the accident can decide together at the scene who was at fault. This process usually involves one driver readily admitting fault and being willing to take the blame. However, taking this route to determine fault is highly inadvisable.

Many drivers are in shock and quite shaken up at the scene of the accident; this is not the time or place to accept or place blame for the accident. You don’t want to accept blame in the heat of the moment and then later decide that you are not the at-fault party. Even saying something as simple as “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t see you coming” can place the blame on you.

Speak politely to the other driver(s) involved, exchange information, and call the police. Don’t discuss what happened.

The Police Report

After an accident causing injuries or property damage, it’s best, and often legally necessary, that you call law enforcement to come to draft an accident report. When they arrive, they will determine if anyone is hurt and get them medical attention, then they will begin assessing the accident scene.

Examining the damage to all involved vehicles and where the vehicles landed can help give them clues as to which party is at fault for the accident. The police officer will usually draw or create a diagram of the scene.

They will also talk to all involved parties and eyewitnesses at the scene who can help determine what caused the accident. Officers will also be looking to determine if anyone broke the law in causing the accident, such as speeding or running a red light. If a driver breaks the law, leading to an accident, the fault will likely land on them, as this establishes negligence. Traffic laws create a duty for drivers to obey them. When they don’t follow them, and people get hurt, the driver is liable for their negligence.

It’s worth noting that police reports aren’t infallible. However, they are documents that auto insurance companies will undoubtedly read. It’s proof that the accident occurred and can give trustworthy details. While police reports cannot be evidence in litigation, they can certainly serve as important evidence of the fault in insurance claims.

The Insurance Companies

If you have collision coverage on your auto insurance policy, you can file a collision claim, no matter whose fault the accident is. When you do this, your insurance company will perform its own investigation. If they believe the other driver is at fault, they will contact the other driver’s insurance company to seek what is known as subrogation to pay for your claim. If their efforts are successful, you will get your deductible back.

If the two insurance companies can’t agree, they may take their dispute to arbitration. During this process, an arbitrator will determine who was at fault for the accident and how much they should owe for the damages they caused.

Your Attorney and the Insurance Company’s Attorneys

After an accident, you should exercise your right to meet with a skilled car accident attorney. Even if you aren’t sure your injuries are severe enough or that your car was damaged enough, it’s always in your best interest to review your potential case with an attorney. Otherwise, you might leave money on the table you are entitled to receive.

If the attorney agrees that you have a valid claim, they can help you file and pursue one with the other party’s insurance company. When this happens, most claims settle outside of court between the car accident victim’s attorney and the auto insurance company’s attorneys. While it may take a few months or even over a year, they can usually reach an acceptable settlement agreement so you can receive compensation for your damages.

Typically, with a settlement, the paying party doesn’t admit fault or liability. Instead, they are paying a settlement to avoid going to court. So while it might feel like you need the other party to admit their fault and be accountable for the harm they caused you, you likely won’t get this result. But the good news is that you can receive compensation for your damages that will pay for your medical bills and pain and suffering.

Settling a car accident case is often the best option for injured victims. It helps resolve the matter sooner so you can pay your bills and move on with your life. It keeps you from having the stress of a trial and needing to speak in front of the court. It also keeps your personal details out of public court records.

Insurance companies also prefer settlements as they are less of an investment of time and money compared to going to trial. Settlements can help the insurance company or their client protect their reputation. They also give them and you more control over the resolution of the claim. Going to trial puts the outcome entirely in the hands of the court or jury, and you never know what will happen.

The Civil Court

In the small percentage of car accident cases that don’t settle outside of civil court, a judge or a jury will hear the case at trial, and they will decide who is at fault.

They will reach their conclusion after hearing and examining evidence from both sides, including evidence such as:

  • Testimony from eyewitnesses
  • Testimony from expert witnesses
  • Testimony from the drivers
  • The police report
  • Surveillance camera footage
  • Pictures or videos of the scene of the accident
  • Pictures of your injuries
  • Medical reports
  • Other documents and records, such as cell phone records

Either party has the right to appeal the court’s decision, which can drag the case on for several more years.

How Should You Determine Fault in Your Car Accident?

The best way to determine who is at fault for your motor vehicle accident is to contact a well-versed car accident attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will gather relevant evidence and use their resources to conduct a thorough investigation. Their goal is to say with certainty what happened to cause your car accident and who is liable. They can use the evidence to support the results of their investigation and negotiate a full and fair settlement on your behalf.

Potential Liability in a Car Accident

Many times, car accidents aren’t as simple as blaming one driver. There can be multiple parties at fault, even parties who aren’t or who have never been to the scene of the accident. This situation can complicate an accident investigation and is a further reason to hire an experienced attorney to manage your claim on your behalf.

For example, you can hold these parties liable for your damages after a motor vehicle accident:

  • Other drivers on the road
  • Employers for other drivers on the road
  • Vehicle owners, such as a trucking or delivery company
  • Government agencies responsible for road surface conditions, traffic signals, or road signs
  • Vehicle or vehicle parts manufacturers

When you hire an attorney to represent you, they will identify all potentially liable parties and determine their insurance coverages. This knowledge will help maximize your claim to ensure you get the highest compensation possible for your damages.

Recovering Damages in Motor Vehicle Accident Injury Cases

Suppose you file a motor vehicle accident injury claim, and your attorney negotiates a fair settlement, or the court returns a verdict in your favor providing you with a monetary award. In that case, you can recover the following losses:

Medical Expenses

Severe car accidents cause injured victims to run up medical bills for:

  • Ambulance rides
  • Emergency department visits
  • Diagnostic scans
  • X-rays
  • Surgery
  • Aftercare
  • Prescription medications

Future Medical Expenses

Severe car accident injuries might require weeks or months for their healing and recover. Accident victims might need further surgeries or treatments and follow-up care after a settlement or going to trial. Future medical treatment can include long-term care for catastrophic injuries or lifelong treatment for a chronic condition resulting from a bad car accident.

Rehabilitative Service Bills

Severe injuries frequently necessitate weeks or months of physical or other therapy for victims to regain their abilities—if they can even recover.

The victim can receive compensation for expected physical therapy and any assistive devices or technologies necessary to function.

Examples of assistive devices include:

  • Crutches
  • Wheelchairs
  • Canes
  • Walkers
  • Prosthetic limbs

Assistive technology refers to computer programs that help victims recover sensory functions, such as speech or hearing loss from a severe accident.

Lost Wages and Income

Depending on the severity of a motor vehicle accident and the resulting injuries, an injured individual might miss several days, weeks, or even months of work time. Even though employee sick leave and PIP insurance can cover their missed wages for a short period, extended leaves of absence mean additional lost wages.

Even once an injured car accident victim returns to work, their medical providers might still limit their work hours or activities, making it take longer to return to work full-time to their pre-accident status. Only full-time and regular part-time employees routinely include lost wages in car accident claims.

Lost Earning Capacity

Lost earning capacity refers to future lost wages. Much like future medical costs, an extensive recovery period can cause an injured individual to miss work after their settlement or trial date. Lost earning capacity applies especially to motor vehicle accident injuries causing permanent disability.

Catastrophic injuries result in disabilities that keep an injured person from ever returning to work or requiring a change of career, potentially forcing a salary reduction. When an injured individual suffers paralysis, amputation, or another life-changing injury, the claim often includes lost earning capacity.

Pain and Suffering

Injury accident claims often include compensation for pain and suffering if severe injuries result from the accident. Pain and suffering include real physical pain and mental anguish resulting from decreased quality of life and dealing with a severe injury.

Loss of Consortium

Catastrophic vehicle accidents can cause much strain and stress on a marital relationship. The resulting injuries can create a physical and emotional wedge between even the most loving spouses. Car accident injury victims whose marriage suffers because of their injuries have the right to sue for loss of consortium with a spouse.

Scarring and Disfigurement

Car Accident Attorney, Gary Annes
Car Accident Attorney, Gary Annes

Another type of non-economic loss from car accident claims includes the embarrassment, humiliation, and anger stemming from scars and disfigurement. This compensation is often appropriate for accident injury victims suffering from burns or amputations.

Take advantage of the compensation you are entitled to receive for your damages. Contact a skilled car accident attorney today for the help you need.

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Chicago, IL 60602

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