Who Decides Who’s at Fault in a Car Accident?

It’s hard to determine how a car accident occurred and who caused it in some cases. Several individuals can shed light on who is at fault in a car accident. Those individuals include police officers, eyewitnesses to the occurrence, and accident reconstructionist.

The insurance company can use information from these sources to determine if they will accept fault for the accident. If so, they may offer monetary compensation to settle the case. However, if the case has to go to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process or to trial, it is ultimately the fact finder (a judge or jury) who decides the identity of the at-fault person in the car accident.

To be eligible for monetary compensation for your car accident injuries, you must establish all of the legal elements of your claim, including fault or liability. When it comes to proving liability in a car accident claim, the insurance company will not do you any favours.

That is why you need a knowledgeable car accident lawyer on your side throughout every stage of your case. Your injury lawyer can help you prove all of the legal elements of the claim, including the issue of fault, and work to recover the compensatory damages you deserve.

Police Officers and Eyewitnesses to an Accident

Police officers who respond to an accident can assess how the accident occurred and who caused it. Even if the responding police officer was not an eyewitness to the occurrence, this is true. Police officers who arrive at the scene can observe the property damage, look at the vehicle positions, and speak to the drivers and witnesses. They might give their opinion regarding who was at fault for the accident.

Finally, a responding police officer can include all this information in a written police report that may become important evidence in any personal injury case that an accident victim files.

The accident victim’s lawyer might use the police report at trial and have the officer authenticate the report from the witness stand. Police reports typically assess who (in the police officer’s opinion) caused the accident, whether the officer issued a citation to the adult driver, and what the citation was for.

In addition to police officers, eyewitnesses can also be favorable when determining fault. A witness can testify about what they observed before and during the collision. An eyewitness to a car accident can describe the positions of the vehicles, the relative speeds of the vehicles, the colors of traffic lights, the presence of stop signs, and what they observed at the time of the crash.

A knowledgeable car accident lawyer can speak with a responding police officer and/or an eyewitness to determine how the accident occurred and who likely caused it.

Accident Reconstructionists

Following a car crash, an accident victim’s lawyer may need to retain an accident reconstructionist (typically an engineer specializing in auto accidents) to determine how the accident occurred. An accident reconstructionist can speak with eyewitnesses to the collision, observe the scene, review property damage photos, and look at other evidence. They can then determine how a particular car accident occurred and who or what caused it.

If a car accident case goes to trial, the accident victim’s lawyer might call the accident reconstructionist to the witness stand as an expert. Any report that the accident reconstructionist prepared involving the car crash might also be evidence at trial. An accident victim’s lawyer can question the accident reconstructionist on the witness stand to convince a jury or a judge that a particular driver caused the collision.

To recover financial damages in a personal injury car accident case, the accident victim must establish various legal elements of the claim. First, the accident victim must show that another driver did something wrong or acted unreasonably under the circumstances.

In other words, another driver must be at fault for the accident. For example, the driver might have engaged in distracted driving, operated their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or violated a traffic law.

Distracted driving occurs when drivers deviate their attention away from the road and onto something in the vehicle.

For example, the driver might be roughhousing with passengers in a vehicle, listening to loud music playing in the car, programming a GPS device, or texting on a cellular phone or tablet instead of watching the road. At other times, drugs or alcohol might impair a driver, causing delayed reaction times. Finally, a driver may have violated a road rule, such as failing to yield the right of way at a traffic intersection, speeding, or tailgating another vehicle.

The accident victim must establish that the at-fault driver’s breach of the duty of care resulted not only in the accident but the victim’s injuries. Assuming the accident victim can satisfy their legal burden, they might recover damages, depending on their specific injuries and the medical treatment they received for those injuries.

Submitting a Demand Package to the Insurance Company

When an accident victim’s lawyer submits a settlement demand package to the insurance company adjuster handling the claim, the adjuster will review all of the documentation and decide on liability.

In addition to a settlement demand letter which makes a monetary demand for compensation, the demand package will include documents pertinent to fault and liability in the case. Those documents can include copies of the police report, eyewitness statements, diagrams of the accident scene, property damage photographs, accident reconstructionist reports, and other investigative reports.

The insurance company adjuster will review all of this documentation and decide whether or not to accept fault for the accident.

If the insurance company accepts liability, the adjuster might offer to settle the case. However, before making a settlement offer, the adjuster will review all of the accident victim’s medical treatment records and other documentation. Since an initial settlement offer is not usually very high, the accident victim’s lawyer will typically need to negotiate with the adjuster several times before the offer will increase significantly.

In some cases, even where the insurance company accepts fault for an accident, the adjuster will not offer sufficient compensation to the accident victim. The accident victim’s lawyer can file a lawsuit in court and begin the litigation process. Likewise, if the insurance company denies fault for the accident, the accident victim’s lawyer will likely have no other choice than to file a lawsuit in the court system.

Even after a lawyer files a personal injury lawsuit in the court system, the parties can still work on negotiating a favourable settlement in the case, assuming liability is accepted. In other words, simply filing a lawsuit does not guarantee that the case will go to court. However, the parties will need to exchange documents and answer written questions about the case, called interrogatories. In addition, the accident victim may need to submit to a discovery/questioning.

During a discovery/questioning, they will answer questions about the accident, the injuries, the medical treatment they underwent, and their pain and suffering. Once the litigation process is complete, the parties can still resolve the case. Otherwise, the case may go to a trial or to an ADR process such as mediation or arbitration.

Judges and Juries

There are two primary reasons why a car accident case goes to a trial. The first instance is where the insurance company denies fault or liability for the accident. They might argue that some other person or entity caused or contributed to the accident. Alternatively, they might allege that the accident victim was a contributing factor in the happening of the accident.

If the insurance company denies liability, the parties will need to litigate the issue at trial. When the case goes to trial, the judge or jury will decide who was responsible for the accident. Suppose they determined that the other driver caused the accident by operating their vehicle recklessly, carelessly, or negligently. In that case, the jury will then consider the issue of damages and decide what, if any, compensation to award the accident victim plaintiff.

The second instance when a car accident case goes to a trial is when the insurance company does admit to liability for the accident, but the parties cannot agree on damages. In other words, the insurance company might allege that the accident victim’s complaints are primarily the result of a prior or subsequent accident/injury or come from a degenerative underlying medical condition.

Consequently, the insurance company and the accident victim’s lawyer will dispute the amount of compensation to award the accident victim.

If the parties stipulate—or agree—to liability, then the court will not have to decide this issue. Rather, if the case goes to trial, the court will only need to decide the issue of damages. The judge or jury will decide the types of damages toward the accident victim and the amounts of those damages.

If you have suffered injuries in a car accident, a knowledgeable car accident lawyer can represent you at all stages of the litigation, including a trial. When arguing your case in front of a jury or judge, your lawyer will work vigorously to advance your interests and recover the full amount of compensation you deserve.

Recovering Monetary Compensation and Damages for Car Accident Injuries

If the insurance stipulates or a court determines that someone else was responsible for your car accident, the sole issue in your case becomes damages. Victims of car accidents can recover damages depending on the nature and extent of their injuries, the medical treatment they needed, the inconvenience of their medical treatment, and whether or not they suffered a permanent impairment in the accident.

Some injuries, including spinal cord injuries, head injuries and paralysis injuries, can result in permanent disabilities. Accident victims may recover compensation for their lost earnings and out-of-pocket costs and their past and future pain and suffering.

In addition to pain and suffering compensation, an accident victim can file a claim for loss of earning capacity if they can no longer return to their previous job due to their injuries. They can also pursue compensation for mental distress, emotional anguish, inconvenience, lost enjoyment of life, loss of spousal consortium, and loss of the ability to use a body part if they sustained a permanent injury in their car accident, such as a traumatic brain injury or paralysis.

A knowledgeable car accident lawyer can work to maximize the compensation you recover in your case at the settlement negotiating table or in the courtroom. Your injury lawyer can bring out all of the highlights in your case and downplay any negatives, increasing your chances of recovering the full and fair amount of your damages in the case.

Proving fault and damages in a car accident claim is often an uphill battle, and the insurance company fights every step of the way. A knowledgeable car accident lawyer can help you establish the legal elements of your claim—including liability and fault. Your injury lawyer can speak with and review statements of police officer and eyewitnesses to the collision and, if necessary, hire an investigator or accident reconstructionist to determine how your car accident occurred and who likely caused it.

Your lawyer can then help you prove liability and damages in your case and work to get you the financial recovery you deserve for your injuries. This process is more complex than most people imagine, as it involves more than simply requesting compensation and receiving a settlement. The insurance companies make the claims process much harder on injured victims.

The good news is having an experienced accident lawyer handling all communications and negotiations can increase your chances of receiving full compensation sooner. For a free legal consultation and case evaluation, please contact a car accident lawyer today for more information.


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