What Happens If I Am at Fault For a Car Accident?

Rather than another driver ramming into your car, you may be the at-fault party in a car accident. If you injure someone or cause extensive property damage, how should you proceed? Knowing what to do no matter if you’re the plaintiff or defendant in a car accident case helps you know how to protect your rights and get back to your day-to-day life.

The Importance of Fault

Usually, the at-fault driver bears responsibility for compensating the harmed party for health care bills, car repairs, lost income, and pain and suffering. Other than the driver in the other vehicle, the at-fault driver may harm the injured driver’s passengers. If so, the at-fault driver must compensate them, too. This applies in most areas, but some states use a no-fault system.

In no-fault states, drivers must have insurance coverage that includes personal injury protection coverage. This coverage only includes losses related to physical injury, not property damage. If a person gets into a car accident, her or his insurance provider takes care of all resulting medical bills and property damage, no matter which party bears fault. In no-fault states, drivers cannot sue each other for compensation unless someone sustains “serious” injuries or healthcare bills exceed a specific limit. What meets the definition of a “serious” injury depends on state law.

Proving Fault

Rather than immediately label yourself the at-fault driver, wait and let the police report and insurance adjusters determine fault. Just as the injured party gathers evidence to prove fault, you can do the same. Verbal or written witness statements may compromise the harmed driver’s narrative of what happened, and the same applies to pictures you take at the accident scene. Snap images of the damage both cars sustained, injuries you endured, and the position of the vehicles after the accident. Even as the at-fault party, you still have damages to repair and an insurance claim to file.

Even if seems clear which driver caused an accident, unknown factors could change the legal situation. For instance, perhaps the harmed motorist drove distracted, or maybe you drove with defective brakes or tires that made it hard for you to come to a full stop before ramming into a car in front of you. You should not be the one to pay for a manufacturer’s negligence or bear guilt for an accident you didn’t cause.

Insurance Coverage for At-Fault Drivers

If you have liability coverage, your insurance policy covers the injured party’s medical bills. Liability insurance also covers diminished earning capacity, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Collision coverage takes care of damages you sustain as the at-fault driver. With both liability and collision coverage, your policy only takes care of damages up to a specific limit. If damages exceed that limit, you may pay the rest out of pocket.

Because you bear fault for the car collision, expect your insurance rates to increase the next time you renew your policy. Usually, at-fault drivers with a clean record before the accident endure a 41% rate increase. How much your rates increase depends on the severity of the accident. For instance, you should not expect a substantial increase if you only dent the other driver’s bumper. Get ready for a major rate increase if you total a person’s vehicle and cause substantial harm.

If your rates increase, expect to pay more for insurance for three to five years. How long you endure paying more depends on your insurance carrier and geographic location. Sometimes, insurance companies reduce an at-fault driver’s increased rates every year she or he drives without an accident or driving violation. Steps you can take to lower your rates include taking a defensive driving class, searching for a new insurance company, and asking for a discount from your current carrier.

Negligence and Fault

Other than fault, you must also consider negligence in car accidents. Negligence distinguishes behavior that creates an unnecessary risk to others. If a driver’s negligence made her or him at fault for an accident, then that driver must pay the injured party damages. Injured parties must prove several elements of negligence:

  1. The at-fault driver owed the injured party a duty of care, such as driving in a way that does not endanger other motorists, pedestrians, bikers, and others on the road.
  2. The at-fault driver failed to uphold that duty of care or acted unreasonably, such as speeding through a school zone.
  3. The at-fault driver’s breach of duty caused another person’s injuries.
  4. The at-fault driver should have known her or his irresponsible actions would harm others.
  5. The injured party endured actual harm that qualifies for legal damages.

Contributory Negligence

With contributory negligence, a driver’s conduct creates an unnecessary risk for her or himself. Drivers must act reasonably while behind the wheel. When they don’t and an accident happens, injured parties may bear a measure of responsibility for their injuries, even with another driver’s involvement in the collision.

Here’s an example: Say you hit a pedestrian crossing the street. Even though it seems like you bear fault for the pedestrian’s injuries, maybe she or he didn’t look both ways or didn’t look at all before stepping out into the street. Under those circumstances, how much blame do you bear for the pedestrian’s injuries?

If the harmed pedestrian hits you with a negligence claim, you could counter with a contributory negligence claim. That means you feel the accident happened partially because of the pedestrian’s own actions. If you succeed in your contributory negligence claim, the pedestrian may lose her or his right to claim damages, or he or she may only receive reduced damages.

Comparative Negligence

Besides contributory negligence, states also subscribe to comparative negligence laws. That means courts consider the plaintiff’s and defendant’s negligence for resulting harm while deciding damages. Usually, the legal system considers contributory negligence as a block against recovering damages. That means that if a harmed driver or passenger contributed to the collision in any, she or he cannot receive a cent of compensation for the resulting injuries. To soften the unfair nature of contributory negligence, states began adopting comparative negligence laws.

Modified comparative negligence represents the most widely used approach. Plaintiffs cannot recover damages when found to bear equal responsibility or greater responsibility for their injuries. That means the plaintiff cannot bear over 50% fault for resulting harm.

Under pure comparative negligence, after totaling a plaintiff’s damages, the court reflects that total according to how much the plaintiff contributed to her or his own harm. For instance, if the plaintiff qualifies for $10,000 and a court determines he or she bears 25% responsibility, the plaintiff only receives $7,500.

Contact Us Today

Even at-fault drivers have rights to protect. With a legal representative’s help, you may examine your case from every angle to ensure you do not pay more than necessary to the other party.

Cellino Law represents car accident clients throughout all of New York. Before giving in and accepting whatever the injured driver throws at you to recover compensation, let us see whether you may have a comparative or contributory negligence case to build. To schedule a consultation, call us at 888-888-8888. If you prefer, fill out and submit an online form. Let us put our extensive experience to use for you.

Sources:

https://www.findlaw.com/injury/accident-injury-law/contributory-and-comparative-negligence.html

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-at-fault-for-a-car-accident.html

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