Why is fault determination important?

Quick notes

-How fault in an accident is determined and what it means is different to each party involved in the accident process.

-If you have been in an accident it is important to get your insurance profile and ensure that the fault determination is correct.

Fault determination in automobile accidents is important for negligence determination, insurance and criminal or civil lawsuit purposes. The police report will be for formal legal purposes and determining whether any of the drivers’ acted negligently or otherwise illegally. This report will also be used by the insurance company and civil courts (if a lawsuit has been filed).

The insurance company will ask you for your statement regarding the accident. They will use this, their review of the police report, and the adjustor’s inspection of the car involved in the accident. The entirety of this information would be taken into consideration in terms of any civil lawsuits.

The insurance company is not necessarily on your side in these matters, and you should be sure to protect yourself in terms of admissions made and anything agreed to. If there is any question, obtain legal information and/or advice before making any formal statements.

Police report fault determination

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Depending on the extent of the damage, the police will either come to the scene of the accident, or they will take a report at the police station. It is important that they obtain a fair view of the accident so that they can make fair conclusions of fault. This does not always necessarily happen. You may find that you leave the accident shaken up only to find out later that the police did not take any statements from witnesses you felt may be helpful to your position.

There are two types of car accident reports.  One is an official police report created by the officer who investigated the accident. The second is a report created by an alternate party, such as a party to the accident. This alternate party report would be the type usually taken, and later obtained when the damage loss is very low and the police do not attend to the accident scene. If the police come to the scene of the accident, they will provide you with a number you will need to use to obtain a copy of the police report.

The police will use the information obtained to complete the police report to determine who is at fault, though they may choose to not determine fault.

In compiling a police report, the officer will record the date, time and location of the accident, personal and contact information of all parties and witnesses, description of any and all injuries, descriptions of all vehicles involved, weather, road conditions and property damage to vehicles and surrounding properties.

Factors such as speed, improperly working signals or brakes will be assessed. Pictures will also be taken of the damage and accident scene. A field sobriety test may be done at that time.

The police will use the information obtained to complete the police report to determine who is at fault, though they may choose to not determine fault. If the police ultimately issue one of the driver’s a citation, it may later be used as an indication that the individual may be responsible for the accident or acted negligently.

Insurance company fault determination

After you have reported the accident to the police, you will need to make your claim to the insurance company.   They will assign an adjuster to your file who will go and inspect the car, and also possibly the scene of the accident.

The adjuster will decide who was at fault and may assign blame in percentages. This determination will be made based on a review of the police report, and the statement that you make to them and the location of the damage on your vehicle.

The insurance company is not necessarily on your side in these matters, and you should be sure to protect yourself in terms of admissions made and anything agreed to.

Civil court fault determination

Car accidents often lead to lawsuits. A court determination of fault may not be the same as the ones made by the police or the insurance company. The court, comprising of a judge, and possibly a jury, will determine who was negligent and must pay for the property damage, lost income and personal injuries suffered in the car accident.

The court will determine this based on the evidence submitted: normally, the police report, possibly the insurance reports, witnesses and other statements. The driver’s history and driving record may be reviewed and taken into consideration. A traffic citation and subsequent conviction might indicate that the driver was acting negligently and so was at fault.

What to do if you’re in an accident

Know what is required of you in your state and by your insurance company in the event of an accident. When you exchange information with the other driver and witnesses, make sure that you obtain as much as possible. Take pictures of the damage, position of the cars, and pictures of the cars in relation to the road and landmarks. If it is a serious accident speaking to a lawyer prior to reporting it to your insurance company may be helpful.

Your choice of wording in a moment of stress and fear may result in miscommunication and assumption of liability on your part.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

Beware: These gaffes may cost you your insurance claim | Finance101

Don’t get your claim denied by saying the wrong thing to your insurance adjuster. 

Should you call the police after you get in an accident | Autos101

Some states may allow for minor damage matters to be handled without the need for police.