The issue of legal liability, or determining who is at fault in a car accident, has given rise to a mountain of case law spanning many years. The rules are complex, and they can lead to contentious disputes. No one wants to accept fault if they can help it — especially an auto insurance company. Other drivers and their insurers typically try to dodge or reduce liability whenever they can.
So how do insurance companies determine who’s at fault in a car accident when you bring a claim for your injuries? Are you totally at their mercy after an accident? What if you don’t agree with their assessment of fault? What are your options after being injured by a negligent driver?
Read on to learn more.
The Legal Standard for Determining Who’s at Fault in a Car Accident: Who Acted Negligently?
In California, a driver is liable for an accident if it is caused by their negligence. When a driver has acted negligently, they can be held responsible for the financial losses experienced by someone they have injured. If the negligent driver has insurance coverage, the insurance company is responsible to pay for the injured person’s losses up to the coverage limits.
But what is negligence? Negligence is a legal term that refers to careless, unreasonable, or unlawful actions (or the unreasonable failure to act when required). Common examples of negligent driving include speeding, texting while driving, drunk driving, and running a red light.
When insurance companies determine who is at fault in a car accident, they must make their assessment according to the laws regarding negligence in the state where the accident happened.
Which Factors & Evidence Does an Insurance Company Consider When Determining Fault in a Car Accident
Insurance adjusters should consider a number of factors when deciding whether their policyholder was at fault for an accident. These include:
The Police Report
Believe it or not, the police report isn’t the only thing that matters when determining fault. While the official report provides valuable and highly credible evidence about how the accident probably happened, the reality is that police officers don’t always get it right. Usually, they weren’t there to see the accident itself, so they must use post-accident evidence to complete their report.
Often, officers simply don’t have the time or the resources to fully investigate an accident at the scene immediately after the crash. So even though the police report carries a lot of weight, it’s only one of several factors at play when insurance companies determine fault in a car accident situation.
The Things You Say and Do
Be cautious when talking about your auto accident, especially to insurance representatives. Anything you say could be used against you… and in the heat of the moment, it’s all too easy to slip up and say something you don’t mean.
Even a polite apology or saying you didn’t see the other car might be misconstrued as an admission of fault. Your social media posts matter too. Most accident victims don’t know that the insurance company will perform an investigation into their background, including crawling through their online activity to find some evidence of fault or an exaggeration of their injuries.
The insurance company won’t take your word about who is at fault for a car crash. They will want to talk to as many witnesses as possible, including the other driver, any passengers or pedestrians, and other people who might have been nearby to witness the accident first-hand.
Photos & Videos
Even though the issue of who is at fault for a car accident is ultimately a legal issue, it should be supported by physical evidence. Photographs and video footage provide some of the most reliable and detailed proof of what happened in an accident.
For example, by looking at detailed pictures of vehicle damage, experts are sometimes (though not always) able to determine what must have happened to cause damages of that kind. The insurance adjusters might review photos or video from a variety of sources, potentially from you, the other driver, third-party witnesses, or nearby traffic cameras or surveillance footage to determine who’s at fault for the collision.
Recorded Statements, Depositions, and Interrogatories
Depending on how far your insurance claim goes, you may be asked to give a recorded statement to the insurance company representative. This is where the insurance company sound-records your verbal account of the accident as they ask you specific and often leading questions. Taking your recorded statement can give them an opportunity to “trap” you into a contradictory statement and reduce or deny your claim as a result.
If you must file a civil lawsuit to recover your losses, you may also be required to give a deposition (where you are questioned under oath and your answers are recorded in a transcript) or answer interrogatories (where you answer in-depth questions in writing).
Depositions and interrogatories come as part of the litigation process. Depositions are especially common as the parties prepare for trial. You will likely already be represented by a lawyer before the claim gets that far.
The insurance company will likely say that you must give a recorded statement early on — sometimes within hours or days of the accident. You do NOT have to provide a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurer before a lawsuit is filed. It’s important that you talk with an experienced personal injury attorney first. Giving a recorded statement without independent legal representation can be a big mistake and irreparably harm your claim.
Your attorney may be able to negotiate an effective settlement for your claim before you reach the point of giving a deposition under oath. Each case is different, but generally, you don’t want to provide too much information without consulting with a skilled injury attorney first.
When insurance companies determine who’s at fault in a car accident, they should consider everything that is “part of the record,” including recorded statements, interrogatories, depositions, recorded telephone calls, and interviews, as well as related physical evidence.
Any Other Available Evidence
Some types of accidents involve special types of evidence. For example, large commercial trucks sometimes have built-in black boxes that record operational data in real-time. Likewise, the insurance company should consider any evidence that you and your personal injury lawyer might furnish. For example, if you hire an expert accident reconstruction specialist to prepare a report, your lawyer can supply a copy to the adjuster to show who was at fault in the crash.
The Insurance Companies Don’t Have the Final Say About Who is at Fault
Are insurance companies the final judge of who’s at fault? No, they don’t really make that determination at all — at least not on their own.
Insurance companies are not above the law, and the law is what ultimately matters. So when they reach a decision about who is at fault in an accident, their decision is really just an opinion that supports their settlement offer. You and your personal injury attorney always have the right to challenge the insurer’s opinion.
At the end of the day, the insurance adjuster isn’t working as an independent investigator. Rather, they’re looking out for the company. They have a strong financial incentive to “clear” the company (and its policyholder) of wrongdoing. In this way, they can reduce or outright deny your claim payments.
Unfortunately, many of today’s biggest insurance companies operate on a “deny first, investigate later” basis. Some companies may simply deny your claim without doing a thorough investigation to properly determine who is at fault in the first place.
The experienced Bakersfield personal injury lawyers at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine can help you challenge the insurance company’s determination of fault as well as any unfair apportionment of fault in the event that multiple drivers were negligent. You are not at the insurance company’s mercy. You have rights, and we are here to fight for them.
The Law Offices of Mickey Fine Will Fight to Protect Your Rights by Determining Who is At Fault in Your Car Accident
Don’t make the costly mistake of facing a powerful insurance corporation on your own. We invite you to contact our office and talk about your legal options.
The Law Offices of Mickey Fine will fight for a full and fair settlement of your claim. To learn more about your rights and options, contact our office for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced Bakersfield personal injury legal team is standing by.
Time limits and filing deadlines apply to most accident claims in California, so please don’t delay. Call 661-333-3333 in Bakersfield to speak with one of our Bakersfield car accident lawyers today, or contact us online as soon as possible.
We never charge a fee for our services unless we recover money for you first. Your initial consultation is absolutely free.