Determining Fault in Car Accident Lawsuits

In a Forbes article, In 2020, there were over 5 million  car accidents in the United States. Of these, 35,756 were fatalities, 1,593,390 were injuries, and 3,621,681 resulted in property damage. With so many accidents, it is essential to determine fault in a car accident. It determines who is responsible for the payment of damages to another person in fault based jurisdictions. The insurance company for the at-fault driver will usually pay for those damages once liability is established. Thus, determining fault for who caused the accident ensures that the injured party receives compensation for their damages.

Understanding Fault in Car Accidents

Fault in a car accident looks at the conduct of the parties. If A rear ends B’s car, then A is “at fault”. In some cases, fault can be disputed. For example, if both A and B say they had the green light, then fault needs to be determined by the evidence at hand as to what really happened. This can include witnesses to the accident or the police report from the scene. Once gathered, the evidence will be analyzed. One of the strongest pieces of evidence is a citation for a violation of traffic laws. This can take place under either state or local statutes and typically the police will issue a citation. Evidence used to determine fault will be gathered from the police report, witness statements, physical evidence, medical records, and expert testimony. 

Police reports are usually the primary factor in determining fault. The investigating officers are initially the first ones there after an accident. They are neutral witnesses who will take witness statements, observe the car damage, and take photos of the accident scene to determine fault. Once they investigate, they will issue a citation for who was at fault. A citation reflects the police officer’s determination of who was at fault. They will follow either the state or local traffic laws in citing a driver. The violation of these traffic rules can be a major factor establishing who was at fault in a personal injury claim. Depending on the jurisdiction, if that person is more than fifty-percent at fault, they will be unable to recover her damages. Finally, car damage can also determine fault by analyzing the impact to each vehicle. The location and extent of damage as well as witness statements can be used to assist in determining fault.

Importance of Establishing Fault

Establishing fault is a critical part of a car accident case in fault based jurisdictions. For example, Ohio, is a fault-based state. That means the person who caused the accident is responsible for payment of damages to the other parties. The injured parties will look to the at-fault person’s insurance company. If there is no insurance, they can file a personal injury lawsuit against the other party in court. Whoever is at fault for the accident is responsible for the damages that resulted whether under liability insurance or their personal assets. Payment of insurance claims will usually increase the premiums when the policy is renewed. In addition, paid claims will become part of the record and will be available to other insurance companies.

Challenges Determining Fault for Car Accidents

Determining fault in a car accident can be complex. Gathering evidence is very important, but sometimes that evidence may not be reliable or will be in conflict with other evidence. Eyewitness testimony can be subjective and forgotten over time. Often car accidents share the fault between the parties. When this happens, the awards are reduced by the percentage of fault. Intersection car accidents require further investigation. Speed analysis, road conditions, traffic signals and patterns, eye witnesses, as well as expert analysis can assist in fault determinations.

Comparative Fault Jurisdictions

In some cases, it cannot be definitively determined who was at fault. This can give rise to an analysis of both party’s contributions to the accident. In many jurisdictions, it is referred to as contributory negligence or comparative negligence. As to fault, Ohio is a modified comparative negligence state. This means a person can recover damages as long as her degree of fault is not more than 50%. If more than 50%, she won’t be able to recover her damages. If less than 50%, her damages will be reduced by her percentage of fault. Ohio’s modified comparative fault law is complicated and can affect both settlement negotiations with the insurance company as well as the litigation process. Discussing the case with an experienced car accident lawyer will assist you in proving that you were not at fault.

Hire a Lawyer to Help Establish Fault

If in a car accident, it is essential that you contact an attorney that can assist you in navigating the legal process. Your lawyer can gather evidence and guide you through the claim process. After proving you were not at fault, negotiation should start with the insurance company to get the best outcome for you. When hiring a car accident lawyer, look for someone who has  experience in representing car accident victims, is successful at both negotiations and trials, and is a person that you feel comfortable with. At the initial consultation focus on experience, location, skill level, client testimonials, and fee structure. An experienced car accident  lawyer can assess the case,  recover losses, reduce the paperwork, gather evidence, help establish fault, and deal with the insurance adjuster.

About the Authors: Sawan & Sawan is a multi-generational, family owned law firm practicing law in the areas of car accidents, truck accidents, and other personal injury. Our firm practices law in Ohio and Michigan.

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Dennis P. Sawan

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Christopher A. Sawan


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