A car accident has the potential to be incredibly disruptive. Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident, whether you were at fault or not, can be complicated and overwhelming, and it is, unfortunately, a very frequent occurrence. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are more than 6.7 million car crashes in the United States each year. These accidents result in more than 36,000 deaths and 2.7 million injuries.
Even a relatively minor car crash can be an expensive and time-consuming disruption to life. Repair or replacement of a vehicle, treatment for injuries, and the financial impact on insurance as a result of a crash can be burdensome even in an accident that does not result in a long-term debilitating injury or death. For those who are facing more serious and long-term impacts, the losses can be even higher.
Often, a personal injury lawsuit is used to recoup some of the losses from a car accident. If you have been in a car crash that has caused injury, lost wages, or damages to your vehicle, you are likely considering a personal injury claim as a way to get back on track and repair some of the damage done.
If the insurance company finds you to be the at fault driver, however, it can be difficult to get any settlement. If the insurance company deems you to be at fault for the car accident, you do have some options for next steps.
Understanding Fault and How It’s Assigned
The first thing you need to know is how fault is assigned by insurance companies, and it’s not as straightforward as it seems. There are many different components that go into assigning who is at fault for a car accident including the following:
- Self-reported behavior of the drivers involved (speed of travel, obedience to traffic signals, etc.)
- Toxicology reports showing drivers’ drug or alcohol impairment
- Reports from witnesses
- Video recording captured from security cameras
- Condition of the road (debris, construction, etc.)
- Driving conditions (visibility, rain, snow, sleet, etc.)
- Condition of the vehicle prior to the crash (functional components, structural integrity, etc.)
- Forensic evidence (crash impact, location of dents, skid marks, etc.)
- Police report
Depending on the severity of the crash and the complexity of how it happened, an insurance company may conduct a thorough investigation using multiple components in order to assign fault. Fault will be assigned based on a percentage, and typically fault is split in some way. For example, if both drivers are deemed to be equally responsible for a two-car accident, each would be found 50% at fault. If, on the other hand, one driver failed to signal while another driver was speeding and intoxicated, the split might be much more imbalanced such as 10%/90%.
How Fault Affects a Personal Injury Claim
If you are attempting to use a personal injury claim to recoup losses from a car accident, it’s very important to know how fault has been assigned. In most cases, injured parties only have a claim to a personal injury suit when they can substantially demonstrate that the other party was at fault for the accident. For many states, the threshold for fault is 51%. If the insurance company deems you to be the “at fault” driver, it will have a grave impact on your ability to file a personal injury claim and receive compensation for your losses.
In addition, taking a payout from an insurance company typically comes along with the release of responsibility for further compensation. In this case, you would not be able to file a personal injury suit after receiving a payout from the driver’s insurance.
When You’re Determined to be At Fault
If you’ve been determined to be at fault for the car accident by an insurance company, you may be feeling frustrated and at a loss for what to do next. It’s important to know that the insurance company’s assignment of fault is not the final decision on the matter. While, often, the parties involved will accept an insurance company’s assessment and take the payouts offered, that is not necessarily the best course of action.
It’s important to remember that an insurance company’s primary job is to mitigate risk, and their determination of fault may be biased with that goal in mind. In addition, fault is a complex calculation that includes information from many sources. Depending on how thorough the insurance company’s investigation was, the assigned fault may not be accurate. For example, if there are additional witnesses, video footage, or mitigating factors that were not uncovered in the initial assessment, the assignment of fault could shift.
Hiring an attorney who can help conduct a thorough and more detailed investigation will provide you with the opportunity to challenge the assignment of fault. Ultimately, a disputed case could make it to trial where a jury makes the determination. While the vast majority of car accident cases settle before making it to this point, it is important to make sure you have an experienced attorney dedicated to your best interests as you work through the options leading up to that outcome.
If you have been injured in a car accident and are looking into your options regarding a personal injury case, contact us right away for a free consultation.