Most states have a legal process for deciding who’s liable for your car accident injury costs. In fact, liability is the most important factor in deciding how much money your injury deserves in damages. Insurance companies look at four concrete factors to determine who’s at fault for auto accidents — and thus, liability percentages.
Not Sure Who’s Liable? Look At Your Police Report
When someone’s injured in a car wreck, the police often arrive on-scene soon afterward to protect other motorists. Once there, officers can determine whether anyone broke local traffic laws. Next, police determine which driver to hold legally liable for damages. (Note: This only applies to collisions in at-fault states.)
In most cases, they’ll give all affected drivers an auto accident report number written on a small slip of paper. You can request a copy of the full report for your records after seeking medical care for your injuries. (In some states, you may have to pay for your copy of this report.) While the police may assign fault to one specific driver, car insurance companies don’t always agree.
Whether the police assess the scene or not, insurers use their own car accident formula to determine who’s liable. Then, they’ll assign each driver a percentage number showing how responsible they are for causing the wreck.
How Insurance Companies Decide Who’s Liable for Accidents
Car insurance companies use a specific formula to perform a “negligence analysis” for all drivers involved in the crash. They’ll review four distinct elements to determine which driver is most responsible for causing your injuries. For example: Let’s say you stop at a two-way intersection at night. Drivers on the cross street automatically have the right-of-way, because there’s no stop sign or red light. It’s very dark, and you don’t see anyone coming after coming to a full stop and looking both ways. You slam into another car with the headlights turned off driving under the legal speed limit.
You might think the other driver’s 100% liable for your accident, but how can you be sure? To help you better understand the formula that determines who’s liable, we’ll explain the four things insurers look at below.
Factor #1: Driver Duty
Think back to when you finished driver’s education classes to earn your learner’s permit. No matter how long ago that was, you probably heard that driving’s a big responsibility. In fact, driving often has life or death consequences. This is 100% true! Licensed drivers agree to take on certain duties every time they hit the road.
As a responsible driver, your duties include:
- Paying attention to everything that goes on in and around your vehicle
- Obeying all state and local traffic laws
- Using defensive driving techniques to avoid an accident, even if others go out of turn or break the law
In other words, all drivers have a responsibility to put safety above convenience or speed while behind the wheel.
Factor #2: Determining Who Breached That Driver Duty
To assign responsibility for an accident, car insurers must find that a driver breached one or more duties listed above. If a breach didn’t happen, then no driver can be found at fault. If the insurer finds at least one breach of duty, however, that driver’s at least partially liable for causing your injuries.
So if you’re driving 5 mph over the speed limit when the accident occurs, you may be found partially responsible. Even if the other driver did something much worse (like running a light), speeding’s still a breach of driver duty.
Factor #3: Causation
While the example above makes it seem obvious who’s liable for your injuries, insurers might not always agree. The insurance provider must show another driver’s breach of duty caused your injuries and property damage. Once an insurer finds causation, it assigns negligence, and this step usually happens very quickly.
Factor #4: Calculate Damages
Damages can refer to either physical injuries or property damage. An insurer working through the liability determination process must carefully examine the accident. A valid determination directly ties all damages to the at-fault driver’s breach of duty. If you have two distinct injuries from one accident, the insurer must complete this analysis twice — once for each injury.
Once all four criteria are satisfied, an insurer may assign blame to a particular driver.
No-Doubt Situations Where One Driver’s Usually Found Legally Liable
If two drivers break the law or are drunk when the crash happens, knowing who’s legally liable is less obvious. However, there are some “no-doubt” situations where one driver is always found liable for causing the accident. In these situations, the insurance company will assume fault with the other driver almost 100% of the time.
- Rear-end collisions: One driving rule says that staying a safe distance behind another vehicle allows you ample time to stop. If someone hits another vehicle from behind, the insurer assumes that driver followed too closely or didn’t pay attention. The only way to avoid 100% fault in a collision like this is if the other driver’s brake lights weren’t functional.
- Unprotected left turns: If you crash into someone driving the opposite direction, whichever motorist turned left is almost always at fault.
Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.