Determining fault in a two-car accident isn’t always black and white. In fact, it can be downright confusing. It all comes down to a combination of your state’s laws, your auto insurance policy, and the details of your accident.
What is “fault” in insurance?
Your insurance company and the state where the accident occurred determine fault. The person found at fault will be liable for paying damages in an accident. The specific way fault is defined can vary from state to state and across different insurance companies.
Some states have “no-fault” laws, which we’ll explain below. These laws can make determining fault confusing for those involved in an accident, especially if both parties involved tell a different story of what happened.
What are “no-fault” accidents?
Several states have “no-fault” insurance laws. In these states, regardless of who caused the accident, you’re required to pay for your own medical expenses if you land in the hospital—up to the limits of your coverage. If the accident was the other driver’s fault and your medical bills exceed your coverage limits, he/she will have to cover the extra expenses using their liability insurance.
You’re required to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) insurance on your auto policy if you live in one of the twelve states with no-fault insurance laws. If you get into an accident and need to file a claim for personal injury, you’ll submit it to your own insurance company. If the other driver is at fault, you might be able to sue if your injuries are severe and your case meets specific criteria.
States that currently enact no-fault laws:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
Even if you live in a no-fault state, property damage will be considered on an at-fault basis. If you get hit by someone, and it’s clearly their fault, their insurance should pay for your losses.
What are “at-fault” accidents?
Any states we didn’t mention above expect the at-fault driver to take responsibility for personal injury and property damage claims. This means that if you caused the accident, you and your insurance company would be responsible for paying for damages.
How is fault determined?
Let’s say you collide with another driver at an intersection. No one else witnessed the accident, so it’s your word against theirs. Both of you report what happened to your insurance companies. They review the evidence, evaluate the damage, and determine who was at fault.
If the fault is unclear, the cost of damages could be split (depending on the state) 50-50. If they find that both parties are partially responsible for the collision, it can be trickier. To break things down even further, let’s talk about negligence.
As we already explained, after evaluating the details of a case, an insurance company will try to determine who was responsible for the accident. Sometimes they will decide that both parties involved were partially responsible. For example, they may find one driver 70% responsible for the damage and the other 30% responsible. These percentages account for the degree to which you’re found negligent.
Different states handle negligence differently. Your state’s laws will help determine how to solve a case that falls into a gray area.
Pure Comparative Negligence
If you live in a state that uses pure comparative negligence to determine fault, you will be responsible for paying for the degree to which you’re found negligent. Using the example above, let’s say you were found 30% at fault for the accident. In this case, the other driver could have to pay for 70% of your medical expenses or repair costs, and you’ll have to pay the rest.
Modified Comparative Negligence
If you live in a state using modified comparative negligence, you could be liable for paying 100% of your accident-related bills if you’re found more than 50% at fault.
In contributory (pure) negligence states, you might not receive payment from the other party if you’re even partially at fault. Even if you’re only 5 or 10% responsible for causing the accident, you’ll have to cover your costs yourself.
Regardless of whose fault it is, if you get into an accident, remember always to call the police to file a report as soon as possible. Take photos of the damage, write down the accident’s details while they’re fresh in your mind, and exchange contact information with others involved in the accident. These steps will make it easier for you when it’s time to file a claim.
If you need help filing a claim or finding a more affordable auto insurance company, you can reach out to us directly. We’d be more than happy to assist you.