When you are involved in a car accident, it can seem as if time stops. You may brace for impact, hear crushing metal and breaking glass, feel the force acting on your body… and then… maybe a minute of quiet while you wonder if you’re ok. Then, sirens, lights, first responders, questions, confusion. Determining fault in a car accident can be simple in some cases: an impaired driver ran a red light. A texting teen struck sideswiped another vehicle. But in other situations, it is far more complex – and, often, nerve-wracking.
Who Is At Fault in a Car Accident?
Generally, “fault” indicates a level of carelessness, recklessness, or negligence. As mentioned, in some cases, it is difficult to determine who is responsible for a car accident. And, don’t forget, there are different parties who are trying to make that determination. The police, insurance companies, and courts can all play a role.
Let’s back up a step. After a car accident, you should report to the police immediately. If you do not do so at the scene, you have 10 days to file a police report in Florida. There are circumstances in which you are required to notify law enforcement immediately, including accidents involving:
- $500 or more in property damage.
- Death or injuries.
- Indications of pain or discomfort.
- Vehicle(s) that needs towing from the scene.
- Commercial vehicle.
- Intoxicated driver.
It is best to call the law enforcement agency (e.g., sheriff, state police, highway police) that has jurisdiction over the area, regardless, or if you are unsure of the extent of the damage. If there is injury or suspicion of criminal activity (e.g., drunk driving), please call 911.
What Happens Next?
After you report a car accident, officers will respond. They interview the drivers and any witnesses, trying to determine what happened. If there is evidence at the scene, the law enforcement’s accident investigation team may document and collect it. The police then prepare an accident report.
In their report, the police report may include a statement as to who was at fault, based on the responding officer’s professional judgement. But many reports do not make this determination: that is, they do not state who they believe was at fault. Even if they do, though, it does not mean that that party will be held liable – or legally responsible – for damages if there is a lawsuit.
At the scene, officers may issue one or more parties with traffic citations: for example, a driver may be issued a citation for exceeding the speed limit or making an unlawful turn. Now, a citation is not conclusive proof of legal responsibility for a car accident – but it can be used as evidence that a diver was careless or negligent.
The officer(s) responding to your accident will give you a police report number; use this to get your official police report.
Determining Fault In a Car Accident – According to Insurance Companies
When you are involved in a car accident, you must report it to your insurance carrier. Some require you do so immediately. Others state that you must report within 72 hours. Look at your policy to see what your “window” is.
Once you file a claim, the insurance company assigns it to an adjuster. This person oversees the investigation into the accident on the insurance side, as well as the settlement of the claim. An adjuster will typically be assigned by each driver’s insurance company.
Adjusters are responsible for looking into the circumstances related to the car accident, speaking with witnesses, examining medical reports and vehicle damage, and verifying details concerning the insurance policies of the drivers involved.
At the conclusion of their process, the adjusters determine who is at fault for the car accident. In some cases, they may assign a percentage. For example, if another driver ran a red light but you were exceeding the posted speed limit before they struck you, fault may be assigned at, say, 80%/20%. That is, one driver is 80% at fault, while the other is 20% at fault. This, of course, impacts compensation.
Insurance companies typically determine fault using the legal definition of negligence. This means that a driver failed to exercise the same level of caution a “reasonable” person would given the same circumstances. For example, a driver who is traveling at 90 mph in a 70 mph roadway and strikes a driver going the speed limit is likely to be found at fault.
The insurance adjusters do not get the final say. If you have issues with their assessment of fault, you can file a lawsuit after your car accident to recover adequate compensation for injuries and damage.
Here, it is the court’s responsibility to determine fault. They need to decide if the defendant was negligent, in the eyes of the law. The court weighs arguments from your attorney and the other party’s attorney, as well as other evidence presented to them (e.g., medical reports, police accident investigation results, witness accounts, etc.).
If your case is not settled by your attorney, it can go to trial. Here, a judge or jury will decide who is responsible for the accident. If they find the other driver was negligent, they also assess how much he/she must compensate you for your injuries and other losses.
While police reports and adjuster determinations may be used as evidence, they do not dictate the final determination of fault at this level. As mentioned, the court will take into account other evidence, such as medical reports, accident reconstruction reports, etc.
Determining fault in a car accident is a bit different in Florida. Considered a “no fault” state, if you are in an accident, your PIP (Personal Injury Protection) coverage kicks in. But what if your injury exceeds the limits of your policy? What if you are unable to work for an extended period of time? What if your vehicle is significantly damaged or totaled?
In these cases, proving who is at fault in a car accident is essential in helping you win the compensation you need to recover. If you have been injured, contact the attorneys of the LaBovick Law Group for a consultation. Your rights are on the line – and we are here to fight for them.