How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

There are three entities that play a role in the determination of fault:

  • Law enforcement
  • Insurance companies
  • Court system

Law enforcement is the first to investigate the accident. After reviewing the accident scene, taking witness statements and evaluating the accident scenario, the officer issues a report outlining how, based upon the investigation, the accident occurred. His report may or may not contain a statement of fault. A citation may be issued to a driver for excessive speed or failure to yield, etc. Though the officer statement and citation do not ultimately prove guilt, they can be used in court cases to support a case for negligence or liability.

Insurance companies then send adjustors to review all of the details of the accident, inspect the vehicles involved and interview witnesses. Each vehicle involved has an adjustor assigned and each does an independent investigation to determine fault and sometimes assign fault proportionally. For instance, if one driver failed to yield and the other was speeding, both drivers may be assigned a proportion of the liability for the accident.

In the event of a lawsuit, the court system determines which party was negligent. During the case, evidence is presented and a judge or jury analyzes the evidence and assigns guilt or innocence based upon that evidence. It should be noted that assignment of a citation typically weighs heavily on the jury’s determination as they often find that whomever violated traffic laws is the party responsible for the accident.