If I admitted guilt at the scene of an accident am I automatically found liable?

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Most people know that it’s important to watch what you say after a car accident, especially at the scene of the car accident. But that’s easier said than done for most of us. In the fast-moving, panicky moments right after an accident, the people involved -- whether drivers or passengers -- may say any number of things and for any number of reasons. For example:

  • “I’m sorry.” Your knee-jerk apology to the other driver may not be intended as an admission of fault so much as an expression of regret that the accident happened at all -- or as a way to convey relief that everyone involved in the accident came through without any serious injuries.
  • “I didn’t even see you.” This may be a true statement. Maybe you really didn’t see the other car in the seconds before the accident. But there may be information you’re not aware of -- perhaps the other driver was speeding, or he or she made an illegal turn. Saying “I didn’t see you” doesn’t translate to your being legally liable for the accident.

Making statements like these is just human nature after an accident. Unfortunately, admissions of fault -- whether or not you intended your statements as such -- can be used to establish your liability in any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit stemming from the car accident.

It’s important to train yourself to hold your tongue after the accident, when it comes to issues of fault and liability. Stick to exchanging contact information with other drivers and witnesses and answering any questions asked by medical personnel or police officers who arrive at the scene of the accident. But be careful not to make any admissions of fault during these exchanges either, as your statements will likely end up as part of a police report detailing the accident.

Don’t volunteer any opinions regarding what you believe took place, or jump to any conclusions in terms of issues like who may have been driving too fast, whether a traffic signal was yellow or red, and who had the right of way. Even if the other driver accuses you of committing a moving violation or breaking some other traffic law -- or maybe they just ask you what happened -- now isn’t the time to discuss any details related to the accident. (For more information on discussions to avoid at the accident scene, go to At the Scene of Your Accident...Make No Agreements.)  

So what should you do if other drivers or passengers pepper you with questions that go above and beyond the exchange of contact, vehicle, and insurance coverage information? You should politely decline to answer. Instead, assure them that you’ll answer all questions and provide all relevant information once the insurance companies are involved, or after you’ve talked to an attorney.

by: , J.D.

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