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Who caused the accident? This fundamental question lies at the heart of any insurance claim, helping providers calculate and determine fair compensation to the motorists involved. But this simple question doesn’t always have an easy answer. Often, claims adjusters have to perform detailed investigations to determine insurance liability.
Before we delve into the process of determining fault, we will first look at the difference between “fault” states and “no-fault” states. In so-called “no-fault” states, drivers are required by law to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Med Pay. This coverage will kick in to pay for medical costs stemming from an accident regardless of who or what was to blame for the accident. Typically, you won’t be able to file a lawsuit in these states unless your claim meets certain state-specific criteria (i.e. you suffered a permanent disability or incurred significant damages).
The following states have no-fault auto insurance laws: Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Utah. But the majority of states follow a “fault system.” In these states, motorists have three main avenues to pursue when seeking compensation for damages sustained in a crash:
- Filing a claim against the at-fault motorist’s auto insurance provider;
- Filing a claim with their own insurer; or
- Filing a lawsuit against the at-fault motorist.
To recover compensation in a third-party claim, you will be required to prove that the other motorist was at fault. Important evidence might include a copy of the official police accident report, photographs taken at the site of the crash, witness statements, and more.
It is now up to the insurance company’s claims adjuster – an individual responsible for resolving claims – to conduct a complete investigation to determine fault. Fault is not a black-and-white equation; it is not uncommon for multiple parties to share liability.
For example, let’s assume a distracted driver rear-ended your vehicle on the highway. However, the official accident report reveals that you had changed lanes in front of the driver without signaling. Your insurer may decide that you were 25% responsible for causing the accident. Depending on your state, you could now be held liable for 25% of the damages sustained by the other party/parties involved. This illustrates the importance of building a watertight case as a few percentage points can add up to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the circumstances.
Take note: In states that employ modified comparative negligence laws, such as Iowa, your claim will most likely be rejected if a claims adjuster concludes that you were more than 50% to blame for an accident taking place.
How to Help the Insurance Company Determine Fault After a Car Accident
If you are involved in a collision, there are steps you can take to streamline the claims process and help the insurance adjuster determine fault. Keep the following tips in mind:
1. Get a Police Report
In the event of a severe accident – typically where one or more parties sustained injuries, or property damaged exceeded $1,000 – police may be phoned in to compile an investigative report on the crash. This report is a document detailing important information surrounding the accident, such as whether any of the drivers involved were ticketed for a moving violation, any of the drivers tested over the legal blood alcohol limit, or any of the drivers were driving without insurance.
In negotiations with insurers, the success of your claim can hinge on the information inside this report. However, this report can contain inaccurate information, in which case you can request to amend the details, or you can bring in other evidence such as eyewitness testimony to corroborate your version of events.
2. Don’t Admit Fault at the Scene
Regardless of the circumstances, you should never confess to causing an accident. Insurance adjusters are looking for any evidence to dispute your claim – and a crash-site confession is going to put you in their crosshairs.
In the moment it may seems like the crash was your fault, but additional evidence could later emerge showing you were not entirely to blame for the accident taking place. If you are involved in a collision, focus on taking down the contact details and insurance information of the other party/parties involved instead.
3. Gather Evidence at the Scene
It can be hard to keep calm after a crash but gathering the right evidence in the minutes following a collision can mean all the difference. Using your phone or a camera, take photographs of any property damage you sustained in the crash. You should also snap pictures of road markings, street signs, and anything else that may help you prove fault.
Gathering witness statements can also help bolster your case by lending even more credibility to your version of events. Don’t forget to take down the contact details of any witnesses you speak to as the claims adjuster may need this information to follow up.
In addition to an invoice of your repair bill, you should also include both a receipt of your current and future medical costs for injuries you sustained in the crash. Many drivers forget to include a full list of these expenses as part of their claim and are burned later when compensation falls short.
4. Find out If the Other Driver Has Auto Insurance
While most states have laws requiring all drivers to carry insurance meeting minimum liability limits, many drivers still risk fines and other penalties by driving without adequate coverage. If you’re involved in an accident with an at-fault, uninsured driver, it’s likely that this motorist does not have the means to reimburse you for property damage and injuries you sustained. While you could file a lawsuit against the at-fault party, many attorneys advise against this as a protracted legal battle will cost you more than you stand to save.
You best bet: Purchase uninsured motorist insurance. This added layer of protection is relatively affordable and will kick in to cover costs resulting from an accident involving an underinsured/uninsured driver.