The cause of a traffic accident is important to determine which driver was negligent. The negligent driver is considered at fault, making him liable for damages other parties suffered because of the accident and typically causing his insurance rates to go up.
A traffic accident is a stressful situation that can happen quickly, so it’s often difficult to figure out what caused the accident. After an accident, you should call the police so they can come file a police report. They will take statements from each driver and any witnesses who saw what happened. When you talk to the police, it’s important that you tell them only the facts. Don’t guess about anything, as it’s fine to tell the police that you don’t remember something. Make sure that you also avoid saying anything that could imply guilt, such as apologizing to the other driver after the accident. This can come back to haunt you later.
Your next calls after the accident should be to your insurance company and a personal injury attorney. An attorney can make all the difference between recovering damages from another driver, who turned out to be at fault, and getting nothing. Your attorney will be able to advise you on how to proceed and ensure that you don’t do anything that could harm your claim.
Once you’ve contacted your insurance company and an attorney, the insurance adjusters of any drivers involved will investigate the incident to determine fault. They will look at the facts of the accident, including information from their own drivers, statements from witnesses and information from the police report. If there is any video footage, this can prove crucial in assigning fault. If not, it will come down to the adjusters’ investigations. In the event that the other driver’s insurance refuses to pay what you feel are legitimate damages, you may need to take them to court, where your attorney can represent you.
While fault for a car accident is important no matter where you are, its significance depends on your state’s fault laws. A state can be either a no-fault state or a fault state.
In a no-fault state, every driver needs to have personal injury protection coverage through their car insurance, and this covers any injuries they suffer during a car accident regardless of who was at fault. A driver can’t go after another driver for injury-related damages, regardless of who was at fault. However, normal fault laws still apply for damages to vehicles.
In a fault state, whether a driver can recover damages for an accident depends on negligence. The negligence system depends on the state.
With pure contributory negligence, the only way that a driver can recover damages is if he was not at all responsible for the accident. If you’re in an accident and you’re only 5 percent responsible while the other driver is 95 percent responsible, you still can’t recover anything from the other driver if you’re in a pure contributory negligence state.
Few states have pure contributory negligence, and most instead have either pure or proportional comparative fault. With pure comparative fault, any driver involved in an accident can recover damages, with the amount that he can recover being reduced by his negligence. For example, if you get in an accident and suffer $5,000 in damages but you’re 60 percent responsible, you can recover up to $2,000, or 40 percent of your damages.
With proportional comparative fault, you can only recover damages if you’re below a certain fault percentage. Depending on the state, this maximum percentage is set at either 50 or 51 percent.
While it’s stressful when you’re in a car accident and you don’t know exactly what happened or who caused it, keep in mind that it’s not your job to figure that out. All you need to do is let the police and your insurance company know about the accident and tell them your side of it. To give yourself the best chance of recovering damages, it’s also in your best interest to hire a personal injury attorney who can guide you.