Many people ask this question after an accident, especially in traffic crashes. Often, you might believe another driver caused the collision, but an insurance company points the finger at you as the at-fault party.
Ensuring an insurance company properly assesses fault will protect your legal rights as an accident victim and your financial future. If the insurer wrongfully deems you at fault, you can lose significant compensation you truly deserve under the law.
Always hire a legal professional to handle your accident claim to ensure any applicable insurers accurately decide fault for an accident. The right injury attorney can mean the difference between financial support and liability for substantial losses. Our experienced St. Louis car accident lawyers will fight for your rightful compensation. Contact us today for a free consultation.
When Is a Driver At Fault for an Accident?
While different parties might share responsibility for a crash, one driver often bears most of the blame. While each accident is unique and subject to investigation, general guidelines determine a driver’s fault.
First, car accident negligence often determines a driver’s responsibility for an accident. Negligence refers to a failure to drive according to the required standard of care. This standard of care involves following traffic laws, staying alert, and taking other basic measures to keep others on the road safe.
Here are some common scenarios where you can hold a driver negligent for your accident:
- Violating traffic laws - If drivers fail to adhere to traffic laws, such as running a red light, speeding, making an illegal turn, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you can hold them responsible for the accident.
- Failing to yield the right of way - When a driver fails to yield the right of way to another vehicle or pedestrian, causing an accident, you can hold them at fault. Examples include not yielding at an intersection or not prioritizing pedestrians in a crosswalk.
- Rear-end collisions - In most rear-end accidents, the law presumes the driver who strikes the vehicle in front at fault. The driver should maintain a safe following distance and stop or slow down if necessary. The fact they hit the car in front of them often indicates fault.
- Failure to signal or improper lane changes - If a driver merges into another vehicle's path or changes lanes without looking or using turn signals, you can hold them at fault for resulting accidents.
- Distracted driving - Negligence can include activities that divert attention from the road, such as texting, talking on the phone, eating, or adjusting the radio. You can hold drivers at fault if you can prove distraction directly contributed to the accident.
- Failure to adapt to conditions - Drivers have a duty to adjust their driving to account for adverse weather or road conditions. If a driver fails to adjust their speed or maintain control of their vehicle in poor weather, you can hold them responsible for accidents caused as a result.
- Improperly maintained vehicles - If an accident happens due to a mechanical failure, such as faulty brakes, worn-out tires, or malfunctioning lights, you can hold the driver at fault if they fail to properly maintain their vehicle.
Determining fault can involve a detailed assessment of what happened before and during the crash. Even though you might know exactly what happened, your word alone won’t convince an insurance company of its policyholder’s liability. You generally need to present additional evidence from in-depth investigations to succeed with an at-fault claim.
Do not worry - you never have to handle this alone. Once you hire a car accident attorney, they will handle this process. Attorneys have the time, resources, and availability to investigate your crash while you focus on your medical care and physical recovery.
Investigating Fault for Traffic Accidents
Investigating fault for traffic accidents is necessary to determine liability and establish the basis for insurance claims or legal actions.
Your car accident lawyer and their legal team might:
- Gather evidence - When possible, an investigation begins with collecting accident scene evidence. This includes taking photographs, recording videos, and obtaining statements from witnesses. Investigators might document the positions of vehicles, road conditions, traffic signs or signals, and any skid marks or debris. If authorities already cleared the scene, accident reconstruction professionals can recreate it.
- Gather police reports - Law enforcement officers often respond to accidents and create official reports. These reports contain vital information about the accident, including details of the scene, statements from involved parties and witnesses, and any citations or charges issued. These reports are often persuasive - if not dispositive - in an insurer’s fault determination. A citation or charge is strong evidence of fault on its own.
- Hire accident reconstructionists - Accident reconstruction experts may assist in complex cases or disputed scenarios. They use physical evidence, vehicle data, and witness accounts to recreate the accident and analyze factors such as vehicle speeds, distances, and impacts. Their findings can help determine fault more accurately.
- Traffic laws and regulations - Investigators review traffic laws and regulations relevant to the accident to assess whether any violations occurred. Violations such as running a red light, speeding, or failing to yield right-of-way can establish fault.
- Driver statements - Statements from involved drivers help provide each driver's perspective and understanding of the events leading to the accident. However, subjective driver statements usually require corroboration with other evidence.
- Witness statements - Accounts from witnesses who were not in the crash can be valuable evidence, as they have nothing at stake and no incentive to exaggerate or give false accounts of what they saw.
- Video evidence - Cameras on nearby businesses, homes, or intersections might catch an accident. This footage shows exactly what happened in real-time, which can show fault.
Determining fault for traffic accidents requires weighing the evidence gathered during the investigation. The investigation process gathers as much information as possible to make an informed decision on liability, both for insurance purposes and in legal proceedings.
While an insurance company will conduct its investigation, you should never assume it is accurate and thorough. You want a car accident attorney to gather evidence to show your side of the story.
Your Car Accident Attorney Can Negotiate With Insurance Companies
When an insurer blames you for your accident, your attorney knows this is far from the end of the road. This is your opportunity to provide evidence of liability and negotiate fault claims with the company.
Your car accident attorney plays a key role in negotiating with insurance companies on your behalf. Insurance companies will minimize their financial liability by settling claims for the lowest possible amount.
Your attorney can navigate this process for you, including:
Assessing the Claim
An experienced attorney will thoroughly evaluate the details of the accident, including the extent of injuries, property damage, and other factors. They gather evidence to build a strong case for liability and your damages.
Determining the True Value of Your Losses
Proving liability is only step one of the process, as you also need to prove your losses. Insurance companies may undervalue your losses to support offering a low settlement amount. A skilled attorney will assess the full extent of your damages, including medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and future rehabilitation needs. They work to determine the claim's true value, ensuring the insurer does not shortchange you.
Negotiating From a Position of Strength
Armed with legal knowledge and evidence of fault, an attorney negotiates with insurance adjusters from a position of strength. They present the facts and make persuasive arguments to support the policyholder’s liability and your claim for fair compensation.
Handling All Insurance Communications
Dealing with insurance companies can be overwhelming and confusing for accident victims. It is too easy for you to unintentionally say something the insurer will use to minimize or deny your claim.
A car accident lawyer will oversee communications with insurance adjusters, ensuring they handle all conversations professionally and in line with your rights. This means you will not face multiple conversations where you must watch every word you say to adjusters. Everything your attorney says should promote your claim, not jeopardize it.
Leveraging Their Legal Experience
Car accident attorneys are well-versed in personal injury law and insurance regulations. They understand the tactics insurance companies employ and are skilled negotiators. They use their legal knowledge and experience to counter any attempts by insurance companies to diminish or deny your car accident claim.
By enlisting the services of a car accident attorney, you will have an advocate who can level the playing field when negotiating with insurance companies. These lawyers work diligently to protect your rights, maximize your compensation, and ensure a fair resolution to your claims whenever possible.
A Jury Might Determine Fault for a Car Accident
If the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement, your attorney can file a lawsuit in civil court. This demonstrates your willingness to take the case to trial if necessary, putting additional pressure on the insurance company to negotiate in good faith.
Your attorney will likely need to bring the matter to court when liability is an ongoing dispute. While insurance companies and law enforcement agencies may assess fault based on their investigations, when a case goes to trial, the final decision regarding fault is in the hands of a jury of your peers.
Here's how a jury can decide fault for a car accident:
- Presentation of evidence - During a trial, both parties present their evidence to the jury. This includes eyewitness testimonies, accident reconstruction reports, photographs, videos, medical records, and other relevant documentation. The jury carefully reviews and considers this evidence to evaluate the events leading to the accident.
- Witness credibility - Witness testimony plays an important role in car accident cases. Jurors assess the credibility and reliability of witnesses to determine the accuracy of their accounts. Factors such as their position at the scene, ability to perceive events, and potential biases are considerations.
- Expert opinions - Expert witnesses, such as accident reconstruction specialists or medical professionals, may provide their opinions on matters of fault. Their expertise helps the jury understand complex technical aspects of the accident and evaluate the actions or negligence of the involved parties.
- Jury instructions - The judge provides the jury with instructions on the relevant laws and legal standards to consider when determining fault. These instructions guide the jury in applying the law to the evidence presented and reaching a fair and impartial decision.
- Deliberation and verdict - After presenting evidence and closing arguments from both parties, the jury deliberates in a private setting to discuss and reach a verdict. The jurors collectively consider the evidence, testimonies, and instructions from the judge to determine fault.
If your claim does not settle directly with the insurance company or during pre-trial litigation, a jury can determine liability. You want St. Louis personal injury lawyer with extensive litigation experience to ensure the jury hears your side of the story and accurately determines fault.