Determining who is at fault after a motor vehicle accident

Written on behalf of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

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Virtually every driver in California experiences a car accident in their life at some point. Sometimes they are the drivers and other times they are a passenger. Sometimes it is just a fender bender, while other times it may be more serious. Despite how common car accidents are, many people do not know what to do after a car crash. They may also not realize that how they handle the accident may determine who is at fault and therefore has to pay the bill.

Personal finance company, NerdWallet, advises drivers to take a deep breath and calm down after an accident. Too many people become anxious or fly into a rage and forget the important steps, remembering when it is too late, if they remember at all. Once they have calmed down, drivers need to assess the situation. If someone is hurt, one person is becoming belligerent or there is significant damage, call the police. If possible, move both vehicles to the shoulder of the road.

Drivers will then need to document the crash and decide whether to file a claim, since one driver may decide to make a cash payment instead. Note that whether or not a police officer comes to the scene, it is the insurance company that decides who is at fault. However, if a police officer issues a ticket for a violation that led to the accident to one specific driver, that may make that driver more likely to be considered at fault.

Esurance also adds that who is at fault may come down to whether or not the state is a fault or no-fault state. As the name suggests, in at-fault states, the driver at fault pays the claim. In no-fault states, drivers carry personal injury protection and their insurance companies pay for their medical expenses up to a certain threshold. However, property damage is still assessed on a fault basis.

The insurance company also advises drivers to refrain from admitting fault at the scene. This does not mean lying. Do state the facts as seen and as they occurred, but they recommend not explicitly accepting fault. Evidence gathered by both parties, including eye witnesses and dash cam footage, may also be helpful. While some companies offer accident-forgiveness, it is important to note that the premium for the at-fault driver might increase significantly after the crash.

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith

Managing Partner

Robert B. Waldsmith

Robert J. Waldsmith

Partner, 1999

William B. Smith

William B. Smith

Partner, 1978

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