What happens if you're partly to blame for a car accident? Can you still recover financial compensation?
Your role in a collision can have significant implications for the claim process and legal consequences.
This comprehensive guide explains the nuances of shared fault or comparative negligence in car accidents, outlines the common causes of such incidents, describes how insurance companies determine liability, and clarifies what partial fault means. It also examines how partial fault can affect your insurance coverage and legal standing.
Navigating these intricacies will help you understand how to protect your rights if you find yourself in this situation and what steps to take. Whether you're a driver, a passenger, or even a pedestrian, you want a car accident lawyer.
The Importance of Determining Fault
The at-fault party—or their insurance company— typically must pay for any resulting injuries and other losses.
Insurance companies usually determine liability in a car accident on the basis of the legal concept of negligence.
Negligence is a failure to exercise reasonable care that results in harm to another person. It involves examining all relevant evidence, such as violations of traffic laws, statements from drivers and witnesses, and damages to the vehicles. Multiple parties may share negligence, leading us to the concept of comparative negligence, which we explore in the next section.
What Does Partial Fault Mean?
Once you understand the common causes of car accidents and the process insurance companies use to determine fault, it is essential to grasp what it means to be partly to blame and its implications to your accident claim.
Shared Fault or Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence, or shared fault, is a legal concept that attributes a degree of fault to each involved party in an accident. This means that instead of assigning complete blame to one party, the law acknowledges that both parties may have contributed to the accident to varying degrees. The type of comparative negligence that applies varies depending on the specifics of the accident and the jurisdiction.
The Consequences of Partial Fault
Being partly at fault can greatly influence the outcome of your accident claim. While various jurisdictions use different approaches to calculate claims, your percentage of fault will usually reduce the amount of damages you can recover. If you are 30 percent at fault for an accident and your damages total $10,000, for instance, your compensation also decreases by 30 percent, meaning you will recover $7,000—or 70 percent—from the other driver or their insurance company. This demonstrates the potential implications shared fault has on your accident claim.
Types of Comparative Negligence
As we dive further into the concept of shared fault, it is crucial to note that comparative negligence isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. There are three main types of comparative negligence laws that various jurisdictions use: pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Which one applies to you depends on the laws in the state where the accident happened.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Pure comparative negligence allows a plaintiff to recover damages despite their fault for the accident. Their percentage of fault, however, would reduce their payment.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Under modified comparative negligence, the injured party can only recover damages if they are less than 50 percent liable for the accident. If they are 50 percent or more at fault, they cannot recover any damages. Their percentage of fault, again, reduces their compensation
Contributory negligence is the harshest of the comparative negligence principles. It denies any recovery to a party if they are even 1 percent liable for the accident. Very few jurisdictions use this standard.
The comparative negligence standard in your situation will have a significant impact on the outcome of your claim and the amount of compensation you may receive, so review the laws in your jurisdiction with a car accident.
The Role of Insurance Companies
Insurance companies determine liability by conducting independent investigations, which typically involve inspecting the damage, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing any available footage of the accident. They consider all available resources and relevant evidence to calculate the compensation payable to the claimants.
Factors Insurance Companies Consider When Determining Fault
Insurance companies consider a range of factors during their investigations to establish who is responsible for the accident. This evidence can include the police report; statements from drivers, passengers, and witnesses; physical evidence from the accident scene, such as skid marks and vehicle damage; any traffic law violations; and even the time of day and weather conditions at the time of the accident.
The Insurance Company Investigation Process
A claims adjuster investigates insurance claims on behalf of the insurance company to determine the extent of the provider's liability. They initially contact all involved parties to gather facts pertaining to the accident.
After analyzing the evidence and the relevant insurance policies, they determine which parts of the claim the provider will cover and how much the insurer should pay to settle the claim.
What Happens When You Are Partly at Fault
Partial fault in a car accident not only reduces the compensatory damages you can recover following an incident but may also affect your insurance coverage.
Potential Increase in Insurance Premiums
If you are partially liable for an accident, your insurance premiums may increase because insurance companies will typically consider you a higher risk to insure.
Consequences for Future Coverage
Apart from higher premiums, partial fault can have implications for your future insurance coverage. You could face higher deductibles, limitations on your coverage, or refusal of coverage.
Ways to Minimize the Damage to Your Insurance
There are ways to mitigate the consequences of an at-fault accident on your insurance. These include maintaining a clean driving record, taking a defensive driving course, and shopping around for better insurance rates. You can also ask your insurer if they offer accident forgiveness insurance.
Lowering your credit score may also result in a lower insurance premium, as providers typically consider this when determining rates.
Legal Consequences of Being Partly at Fault
In addition to determining your premiums and financial recovery, being partly at fault can have legal repercussions. If you share liability for a car accident, you may face fines and penalties or lawsuits, especially if the other party suffered significant injuries or property damage.
Shared Fault and Personal Injury Lawsuits
In a lawsuit involving partial liability, the compensation you must pay the plaintiff could increase, depending on your percentage of fault. The legal consequences will vary depending on the state where your incident occurred and the type of comparative negligence that applies in that jurisdiction.
Comparative Negligence by Jurisdiction
The implications of pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence can vary significantly, so it is essential to seek legal guidance if you face a lawsuit. An experienced lawyer can explain the approach your state uses and the impact it will have on any legal action you pursue. They can also protect your rights and effectively navigate the claim process for you.
How to Protect Your Rights if You Are Partly at Fault
Accidents can happen to anyone, but how you handle the situation can determine if you recover financial compensation. If you are partly at fault, it is important to protect your rights to ensure you get the financial support you deserve.
Importance of Legal Representation
Hiring a seasoned attorney can make a world of difference. They can provide legal advice and representation and advocate for your best interests throughout the claims process and legal proceedings. Insurance companies tend to take insurance claims more seriously if the client has legal representation.
A skilled attorney will navigate the claims process, explain the laws that apply in your jurisdiction, and protect your rights as you fight for your financial recovery.
Tips for Dealing with Insurance Companies
You should never admit fault at the scene of the accident. Be careful what you say to insurance adjusters, and always consult with your attorney before making any statements or signing documents. Insurance companies may try to undermine your claim when you do not have legal representation, so be sure to contact an attorney promptly after your accident.
The Role of Evidence in Defending Your Case
Collecting and preserving evidence in a timely manner is crucial. Photos, videos, witness statements, and medical reports can all help build a strong case in your defense. The more evidence you collect immediately following the car accident and throughout the recovery process, the more material your attorney will have to substantiate and pursue your claim.
Hire a Lawyer to Protect Your Rights
Understanding your role in a car accident and the implications of shared fault is essential. Contributory negligence claims can influence your insurance premiums, future coverage, and legal affairs.
A knowledgeable and experienced personal injury lawyer can provide the information and advice you need to navigate this complex process effectively. Seek legal support following a car accident where you may share fault to learn your options and protect your rights to pursue your claim.