Who is at fault in an accident?

To determine fault in a car accident, you must show that the driver was negligent; you prove a driver was negligent by showing what the driver did that violated a law.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Have a quick question? I answered nearly 1500 FAQs.

How is fault assigned in California car accidents?

In this day and age, car accidents are just a part of everyday life. They affect people from all walks of life and can happen randomly, causing devastation in their path. Cars are wrecked, people are injured, and some unfortunate souls lose their lives. When such tragedies happen, it is important to determine who is at fault in an accident. Fault can help figure out the issue of liability, which can impact an individual’s legal duties and how they deal with insurance.

To put it simply, fault is when you figure out who is at fault for an accident. States decide the issue of fault differently. California looks at how the accident happened. That is, the state wants to know what the roads were like when the accident happened. Was it raining? Were there potholes? It also wants to know how the drivers behaved at the time of the crash. Was one looking at their cellphone? Was the other headbanging to loud music? These factors may have led to the crash and will have an impact on who is at fault for the accident.

California is therefore defined as a fault state. This means that if a driver is found to be liable for a crash, they can be held responsible for whatever harm the accident caused. What is harm? This can be damage to property, injuries, and lost wages. So, let’s say a driver is distracted by a text message and causes an accident. The other driver suffers a broken leg and is unable to work for two months. In this case, the liable driver is responsible for the other person’s medical bills and lost wages.

Who decides fault, you may wonder. In California, the decision often comes down to insurance companies. They will look at the accident and assign fault. This is done by studying witness statements, police reports, and other proof.

Learn more on how car insurance works when you’re not at fault.

Are there different kinds of fault?

A California car accident lawyer analyzes facts to determine who is at fault for an accident under four theories:

  1. Negligence: This happens when a driver does not show reasonable care. Distracted driving falls into this category. If a driver looks away from the road to answer a text message, they will be determined negligent.
  2. Recklessness: This is when a person shows indifference to other drivers. Picture two drivers street-racing their tricked-out BMWs on a public road. This is reckless behavior.
  3. Intentional misconduct: This means there was a purposeful action that caused the crash. Imagine a driver speeding through a stop sign. This would be considered an act of intentional misconduct. They knew it was wrong and dangerous but did it anyway.
  4. Strict liability: This relates to scenarios where the fault is obvious. Let’s say a driver hops a curb onto the sidewalk and hits a pedestrian. In this instance, they are strictly liable.

It can be difficult to figure out who is at fault for an accident due to many factors being at play. It could be that both drivers share fault. Maybe they were both going fifteen over the speed limit and posting memes on Instagram while swerving in and out of their lane. If this is the case, a comparative fault system is employed. This system assigns a percentage of fault to each driver. This determines how damages are distributed. So one driver might be 80% liable, while the other is only 20% responsible.

What are the different kinds of liability?

  1. Negligence liability: This kind of liability is the most common. It happens when a driver does not show reasonable care, like when they do not pay attention to the road. To prove this, it must be shown that the driver broke their duty to show care when driving. After all, when you are operating a vehicle, you have the duty to drive safely.
  2. Vicarious liability: This happens when one party is deemed responsible for another party’s actions. Let’s say a driver operating a moving truck causes an accident. The owner of the moving company may be held liable.
  3. Product liability: Sometimes a faulty product causes an accident. Maybe a manufacturer did not install brakes properly, which led to a car accident. The manufacturer could be held responsible for damages in this case.
  4. Intentional tort liability: Picture a scenario where one driver gets mad at another driver and plows into their vehicle. That’ll teach them not to cut me off! Nope, not smart. The angry driver would be held liable for causing intentional harm.
  5. Strict liability: Sometimes recklessness or negligence doesn’t matter. If fault is obvious, as when a driver hits a pedestrian or rear-ends another car, strict liability applies.

Figuring out who is at fault for an accident is a critical part of what insurance companies do. Fault determines how much they pay out. To make sure they get it right, insurance companies look over police reports and witness statements to piece together the story of what happened. If the insurer decides that their client caused the crash, they will give compensation to the other driver. However, they will only pay up to the policy limit. So if that number is $10,000, then this is all they will pay.

How is fault determined?

Insurance companies are the main players when it comes to assigning who is at fault for an accident. Let’s say there is an accident where two drivers spin out into a ditch. The insurance company of Driver A will study the details of the accident to see if their client was at fault. Maybe a pedestrian was nearby and saw Driver A tap the bumper of Driver B, causing both to lose control.

Traffic laws also come into question when seeing who is at fault for an accident. Let’s say a driver speeds through an intersection on a red light and crashes into another car. They will probably be assigned fault.

However, the case is not always clear-cut. If insurance companies can’t figure out who is at fault for an accident, the case may proceed to court.

What happens if you are at fault for an accident?

Again, assigning fault is not always easy. Sometimes a full-scale investigation is warranted. If you are determined to be at fault, you may have to pay for any injuries or damages. If the other driver had a lengthy hospital stay, you would be on the hook for their bills. Because of the potential consequences, you should be sure to contact your insurance company right after an accident. If they decide you were at fault, they will pay for any damages up to your policy limit.

If you’re in an a car accident, you should run through a DMV accident checklist to determine what to do next.

Learn more about how much your insurance goes up when you’re at fault for an accident.

What are the different kinds of insurance coverage?

There are many different kinds of insurance coverage you can get in California. The law demands that everyone have liability insurance. This would cover the damages caused by an at-fault driver in an accident.

There is also comprehensive coverage. This covers damage to a vehicle not caused by an accident. If someone comes by and smashes your window in a fit of rage, insurance would cover the repairs.

Collision coverage will pay for damage caused to the insured driver’s car in an accident, regardless of fault.

An additional kind of insurance is fault insurance. This is not required in California. If you are in an accident caused by another driver, this coverage would pay for your medical bills or other damages. But if you get into an accident with a driver who does not have this insurance, you will have to pay for your own bills.

In Conclusion

No one wants to get into a car accident. Determining who is at fault for an accident plays a major role in how damages are assigned. Because of the importance of insurance companies in this process, you should contact them immediately after an accident. By educating yourself on different kinds of fault in California, you will be prepared to protect yourself.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

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