Proving Fault In a Car Accident Case

Assigning liability for a car accident isn’t about what you think, it’s about what you can prove.

After any kind of car accident, the question "Who was at fault?" often looms large. That's because:

  • When fault for a car accident is in dispute, it can delay the car accident settlement process.
  • Fault may become a critical factor if your losses exceed available car insurance policy limits.
  • Fault can also play a role in an insurance company's decision to raise a policyholder's insurance rates after an accident.

Preparing Your Fault Case Starts at the Accident Scene

Once the car accident scene is made safe, and everyone who needs medical care has received it, it's time to gather as much information as possible, because it will almost certainly come in handy down the line.

Gather Information From Others

This includes:

  • the names of other drivers involved in the accident
  • their contact information, and
  • their insurance information.

Do the same for any passengers (especially if they're injured) and any witnesses who may have seen what happened.

Take Pictures That Might Help Tell the Fault Story

There will be obvious things to photograph, like damage to vehicles, skid marks, and injuries. But don't neglect to take pictures of the overall accident scene.

Get as many panoramic photos of the area that shows what conditions were like, including the weather. If there was a malfunctioning stoplight or missing/obscured traffic sign, take a picture of that, too. The goal is to gather as much objective evidence as possible in case the other driver denies liability by trying to change the facts surrounding the accident.

Let's say the other driver ran a stop sign and hit you. Even if they admit this mistake right after the accident, the driver might say something different later on. For instance, they might argue the stop sign was laying on the ground, and that's why they didn't see it. If you have pictures of the intersection showing that all the stop signs were upright, then you'll have a much easier time proving the other driver was at fault.

Learn more: 6 Steps to Take After a Car Accident

What Does the Police Report Say?

If a law enforcement officer came to the scene of your car accident, some kind of report was almost certainly generated as a result.

A police report will include details about where the accident occurred, who was involved, who was injured, where vehicle damage was located, and so on. In some instances, the officer also transcribes witness statements, makes notes regarding vehicle positioning and location of debris, and records other factors that might weigh into the determination of who caused your car accident.

Learn more about police reports in car accident claims.

Is There Video of How Your Car Accident Happened?

If your accident occurred in front of a group of people, there's a good chance that someone used a smartphone to record a part of the accident or the events after the crash. If such footage exists, ask the person to send you a copy of the photos or video. At the very least, get the person's contact information.

There could also be video footage from a security or traffic camera. You don't need to get a copy of the footage immediately after the accident, although you should if possible. But at the very least, make a note of where the camera is and any details that might indicate who owns or controls it. This information will come in handy if you end up in a lawsuit.

Tell Your Own Car Accident Story

Create a diary in which you record what happened right before, during, and after the accident. In addition to including information about any injuries, damages, and evidence you might have, you'll want to document everything you did and what the other driver did after the accident.

For example, use your diary to record the other driver's information, as well as the names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident. If you spoke to a police officer, make note of the officer's name, badge number, and department they worked for.

If the other driver admitted anything to you, make a note of that. Also, record any observations you had, like the other driver smelling of alcohol, or some indication that phone use might have played a part in causing the crash.

This diary can help you remember facts you're bound to forget in the confusion and stress following an accident. This can boost your credibility with insurance companies, lawyers, and law enforcement later on.

Piecing Together the Fault Puzzle

Some of the above information will be handy if you end up in a lawsuit where the at-fault driver blames you for causing the accident. But even if it never gets to litigation, you can use this information when filing an insurance claim or assisting in an investigation by your insurance company. Let's use a hypothetical to illustrate.

You get into a car accident that takes place in the parking lot of a restaurant. The other driver backed out of a parking spot without first looking to see if there was any oncoming traffic. But they claim you were speeding and that that they pulled out well before you approached, so you had plenty of time to see them and avoid the accident. None of this is true, but it's your word against the other driver's.

After the accident, you and the other driver exchange insurance information and give your respective stories to a responding police officer. But after the other driver and police officer leave, you go to the restaurant and ask if they had any security camera footage of the parking lot. The manager gives you a copy of the relevant footage on a CD-ROM. Luckily, it confirms your recollection of what happened.

Before you get a chance to tell your insurance company about your accident, the other driver files a claim with your car insurance company and threatens to sue you. Your car insurance company calls to ask you what happened. You refer to your diary to refresh your memory and give your insurance company's investigator all the information you have about the accident. You also forward them the photos you took of the skid marks and vehicular damage after the accident, and the security camera footage.

After reviewing this information, your insurance investigator confirms your story and concludes the other driver was at fault. Because of this, you're able to avoid a car insurance rate increase and the other driver decides not to file suit.

Taking the Next Step

Proving who was at fault for a car accident is rarely easy, but especially if you've suffered serious injuries, the success of your car accident claim might hinge on this key issues. If you think it might be time to get a legal professional on your side, use the tools on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer in your area, and learn more about when it's time to hire a car accident lawyer.

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