Who’s at Fault for an Accident FAQ


If you have been injured in a car, truck, or other kind of accident, you may be entitled to seek compensation (also called “damages”) for the losses you suffered because of the injury. If you pursue a claim to seek these damages, one question that will come up is who was at fault for the accident.

What Does It Mean to Say Someone Is at Fault for an Accident?

When the term “at fault” is used in an accident claim, it usually means that the person who is at fault was negligent.

What Is Negligence?

Sometimes people do things on purpose to hurt other people. Other times, they cause harm because they are careless, which is almost always the case in road collisions. In legal terms, when someone is careless and does something they shouldn’t do — or they fail to do something that they should — then we say they are negligent.

You are negligent when you have a duty to act in a certain way, and you don’t. Every driver has a duty to use reasonable care when they are on the road to avoid injuring other people. If a driver doesn’t take reasonable care, and because of that, they cause or contribute to an accident that injures someone, then they are negligent and at fault for the accident and the injury.

In personal injury claims, one driver can be at fault, or both drivers can be at fault. If there are more than two drivers involved in an accident, they might all be at fault to equal or varying degrees.

Why Does It Matter Who Is at Fault?

To receive compensation in a car accident claim, you have to show that the other driver was partially or totally at fault. That is because the payment is to help compensate you for injuries sustained in an accident that wouldn’t have happened if the other driver hadn’t been careless.

What Happens If I Was at Fault Too?

In most states, even if you partially caused the accident, as long as the other driver was negligent too, you may still be entitled to damages.

Different states treat this question differently. There are two basic approaches that a state may use:

  1. Comparative negligence. This is the most common way to assign damages when both parties are partially at fault. In a comparative-negligence state, if you are the plaintiff (the person suing for damages), you may be awarded damages, but the amount will be reduced according to how much you were at fault. Fault is split between both sides. For example, if you were 20% at fault for the accident, and the defendant (the person you are suing) was 80% at fault, then the money you are awarded will be reduced by 20%.

Some states have a rule that says that only plaintiffs who are less than 50% at fault can receive any damages. Other states don’t have that restriction.

  1. Contributory negligence. A few states have a rule that says you can recover damages only if you are not at fault at all. In these states, if you are even a tiny bit responsible for the accident, you won’t get any compensation. Some of these states have an exception, called the “last chance rule,” that will allow you to get damages if the defendant had the last opportunity to avoid the accident and didn’t take it.

Because the laws governing personal injury compensation differ so much from state to state, you should talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer in your state to find out more.

How Do I Know How Much I Was at Fault?

Figuring out how much of the accident was your fault and how much was the defendant’s fault is not an exact science. This is something that gets hammered out in settlement negotiations or in court. It’s very helpful to have a strong negotiator representing you who can make sure that the fault is assigned fairly.

How Difficult Is It to Prove Who Was at Fault in a Vehicle Accident?

As a practical matter, most personal injury cases settle before going to trial. You or your lawyer will negotiate with the insurance adjuster or lawyer from the other driver’s insurance company until you reach an agreement.

When you negotiate with an insurance company, the standards for evidence are not as strict as they would be in a courtroom trial in front of a judge and jury. You or your lawyer will be communicating with the insurance company representative more informally through phone calls and letters. You can use ordinary language to argue that the other side was negligent and at fault.

In a courtroom, you might need to prove negligence with evidence such as photographs and measurements of skid marks to show precisely what happened during the accident. In negotiations with an insurance company, though, you don’t have to be that exact. For example, if the other driver rear-ended you, you might only need to point to that fact to establish that the driver was negligent.

Insurance companies want to avoid going to court if they think there is a good chance they might lose. They would rather pay you a reasonable settlement amount instead of taking the chance of losing at trial.

If you have an experienced personal injury attorney who has good negotiation skills working on your behalf, you will be in the strongest position to get a fair settlement from the insurance company.

Raynes & Lawn Can Help You Get the Compensation You Deserve

The Raynes & Lawn law firm has been fighting for justice for more than 50 years. Our lawyers have been honored with many awards for excellence, including being named to lists of the best lawyers in the state. We are committed to providing the best representation.

If you were injured in an accident, we invite you to contact us using our convenient online form, or call us at (800) 535-1797, to find out how we can help you.

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