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Who is at Fault in a Car Accident?

Car accidents are never fun, and a serious crash can change someone’s life forever. In terms of car insurance, if a driver is not at fault in an accident, his insurance premiums generally stay the same. Drivers who are at fault, however, will be paying a lot more for insurance in the future. It is important for drivers to understand what “at-fault” really means so they are prepared if they have the misfortune to be involved in an accident in the future.

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At-Fault, Defined

When involved in an auto accident, the person who is determined to be “at-fault” is the one whose driving negligence caused or contributed to the accident. This person’s insurance company will compensate others involved in the accident for injuries and damages. Being at-fault in a car accident may also result in traffic school or points on a driver’s record; depending upon the circumstances, especially if alcohol was involved, a person may also need to carry an SR-22 certificate and high-risk insurance for three years afterward.

Who is Really At Fault?

The parties involved in an accident may disagree about who is at fault, and it may not be clear depending on the type of accident and the details leading up to it. Insurance companies may also disagree, and some states require fault to be distributed proportionately between the parties involved in the accident. Insurance companies will determine the driver’s percentage level of involvement based on the state’s laws around contributory or comparative negligence.

Each state has its own comparative fault laws, with three variations: pure, 51% or 50% comparative fault. For example, with 50% proportional comparative fault, when an injured person is more than 50% at fault in a car accident he is not entitled to any compensation for damages. A pure comparative fault example would be if an injured driver were partially responsible for causing the accident that injured him. He will be compensated by the insurer for his damages, minus the percentage amount for his fault.

What is No-Fault Insurance?

No-fault insurance is designed to cover both parties to an accident, regardless of who caused it. In theory, no-fault insurance costs less and results in fewer court cases. There are some drawbacks –no-fault insurance does not compensate accident victims for any pain or suffering, and the policy has limits on other financial damages. Additionally, poor drivers are protected by this type of insurance and have no incentive to drive safely. In practice, states that have no-fault insurance have found premiums are about 25% higher than states that require traditional liability coverage. No money is saved on litigation either, since drivers just sue the insurance companies instead of suing the other parties in the accident.

What is the Typical Insurance Coverage?

Each state requires drivers to carry a minimum level of insurance coverage. It usually consists of liability insurance, which does not cover the policyholder in an accident. It only takes care of the costs for damage or injury caused to another party or parties. Comprehensive and collision coverage are two other common forms of auto insurance, and these types of coverage protect the policyholder and pay for damage to his vehicle. Some states require drivers to carry Personal injury protection (PIP) to provide medical coverage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist to pay for any damage or injuries caused by drivers without insurance.

What to Do First in an Accident Situation

In an accident, the first step is to remain calm and check to see if you or anyone else involved needs medical help. Call an ambulance if needed. If the vehicles have blocked traffic but can safely be removed out of the road, it would be wise to do so. It is important to call the police as well, since they can act as an unbiased party to report on the accident details and file a police report. Do not discuss the accident with anyone except the police, and do not accept any fault, even if you think it may be your fault. Leave this to the police and the insurance companies to determine.

Gathering Evidence

Evidence is key in determining who is at fault in an auto accident. Take notes about how the accident happened, the condition of your car and the other car or cars involved, and any injuries to any of the involved people. Exchange names, addresses, driver’s license and insurance details with the other driver. Take pictures with a cell phone of the other car, your car, the street or intersection of the accident, skid marks and any other information that seems relevant.

Calling the Cops

Having the police assist you during an auto accident can be a huge relief, even if the accident is minor. It can be hard to keep a cool head in such a stressful situation, and the police can assist both parties and make sure the accident situation is handled appropriately. A police report is important evidence for insurance companies, to document what happened in the accident. For minor accidents, police may not have the resources available to respond and take a report. In this case, drivers can go to the police department and get an accident report form to complete and file themselves.

Insurance Company Opinion

Auto insurance companies stay profitable by charging appropriate premiums to compensate for risk and potential payouts for accidents. They invest a lot of effort in only paying out what is absolutely necessary, especially since insurance fraud costs them billions of dollars each year. If a driver is not at fault, it helps the insurer if he provides as much information as possible about the accident. This is where the notes, witness interviews and pictures come in handy.

How Does a Car Accident Affect Your Insurance?

If an accident was not your fault, it should not have any effect on your insurance premiums. However, if the insurance company determines you were at fault, your rates will most likely increase substantially. Additionally, if you were convicted of a DUI or other type of intoxication, the insurance company will cancel your policy.

Even if the insurance company does not cancel you, it might be time to shop around for another insurer. Every insurance company uses its own methods for calculating premiums, and insurers that specialize in writing high-risk policies may actually be able to offer surprisingly affordable insurance coverage.

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