Every day millions of people are involved in vehicular collisions, whether fender benders or serious accidents that result in severe injuries and fatalities. In fact, the CDC has reported that car crashes are the leading cause of non-natural deaths for Americans. Regrettably, the majority of accidents are preventable, as they are caused by the negligence of one driver, or in some cases multiple drivers.
Being involved in a no-fault car accident or in a car accident where no one admits fault, can be frustrating as insurance representatives and attorneys argue over who should foot the bill. Perhaps even more frustrating is receiving a denial of benefits because of an unfair at-fault ruling against you.
Read on to learn more about the difference between no-fault and at-fault accidents, the fundamentals of at-fault determination, and how to dispute a car accident fault determination that’s incorrect.
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Understanding Fault Or No-Fault Car Accidents And Why You Should Care
Although the majority of drivers carry car insurance, many may not understand the details of how claims are paid. Drivers purchase their policies, determine the coverage they need, pay their premiums, and expect their insurance company to reimburse them if they’re ever involved in a car accident. If you live in one of the following 12 no-fault automobile accident states, you’ll be covered for damages by your insurance company as there is no requirement to prove fault in order to do so:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
In these states, the drivers submit a claim to their own insurance company, which in turn dispenses payments based on the specific policy and restrictions.
If you reside in an “at fault” or “tort law” state, you must prove who was to blame for the accident in order to recover damages. The responsible “at-fault” individual will end up paying for most or all damages and therefore bear whole or partial liability for the accident.
In cases in which two or more drivers may have contributed to the accident, the monetary amount that gets paid will be based on which of the following doctrines your state follows:
- Contributory negligence prevents an accident victim from recovering any compensation if their negligent actions played any role in causing the accident.
- Comparative negligence (used in most states) requires at-fault drivers to share the blame and thus awards damages based on each driver’s percentage of fault.
- Modified comparative negligence also apportions blame based on percentage of fault, but this doctrine only allows a victim to recover damages if their degree of responsibility for the accident was less than 50 percent. If found to be even 51 percent liable in some states that use this doctrine, no compensation will be awarded.
How To Dispute A Car Accident Fault Determination: Proving Fault
If you’re wondering how fault is determined, the following are the most common situations where a fault determination is made:
- Police Report: In many instances, the police officer will determine who’s at fault based on their observations when they arrive at the scene. The officer may even issue a ticket to one driver rather than the other, which can be a fault-finding action. If the officer can’t determine who’s at fault, an investigation may be needed in order to gather more evidence.
- The Drivers: In some instances, the drivers agree on who’s liable, and even make admissions documented in the police report.
- The Insurance Company: When it’s difficult to determine fault, an insurance company’s adjuster may review the evidence to determine fault based on:
- Police reports detailing the accident
- Maps of the surrounding accident site
- Video footage and photos from the accident scene
- Detailed medical records of any and all injuries (including scrapes and bruises)
- Eyewitness statements
- Computer algorithms that can calculate fault (in certain cases)
- Arbitrator: In some instances, the drivers agree to use a neutral third party called an arbitrator who reviews the evidence and makes a fault determination.
How To Dispute A Car Accident Fault Determination By An Insurance Company
You may be wondering what to do if the insurance company finds you at fault for the accident. Below are a few general tips to help minimize liability.
Don’t take the decision personally. Insurance company adjusters review many cases and it’s possible they made a mistake. If they did make an error, be sure to gather and record relevant evidence to substantiate your claim, including:
- Photos of all vehicular damage and location of vehicles post-accident or point of impact
- Debris from the accident scene
- Skid marks, proximate traffic signs, obstructions on the road, weather conditions, crossing animals, etc.
- Eyewitness statements and police reports
Dispute your insurance company’s findings immediately. As early as possible in the process, you should call them and send a written letter/email requesting them to re-review your claim. You may need to include additional information that they may not have previously considered. It’s important to keep documentation of your dispute and request for a second review.
Hire an experienced personal injury attorney. A car accident attorney would be well versed in disputing findings of insurance companies and would also be able to flag any instances of insurance bad faith. This is when an insurance company fails to follow basic standards required by law when it investigates claims and makes determinations. In addition, an attorney can:
- Review your case and inform you of your rights and legal options
- Assist you in collecting relevant evidence
- Help you draft a comprehensive narrative statement of your side of the case
- Support you in drafting a letter to the state body overseeing insurance affairs if the insurance company refuses to reevaluate the investigation
- Prepare for a civil trial if you decide to pursue legal action
Do You Know How To Dispute A Car Accident Fault Determination In Your Case?
If you have further questions about an unfair car accident fault determination, the appeal process, or how to file a civil lawsuit to recover damages, an experienced personal injury expert can help. Get a free no-obligation case review today.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.