As in a mystery novel or a crime investigation show, determining fault after an accident is a complicated process that largely depends on collecting solid evidence. Very often, more than one person is to blame. Further complicating matters, states have different laws regarding how much compensation partially at-fault drivers can receive.
Let’s explore how police, insurance companies and judges determine liability, and how that affects drivers in different states.
Determining fault in an auto accident
After an accident, the police, you, and any attorneys involved will gather evidence. This may include photos of the vehicle damage and road conditions, eye-witness accounts, and each driver’s description of what occurred.
The police officer will assess whether traffic laws were broken and who caused the collision. He or she will file a police report describing the details of the accident. The police officer’s report will be vital evidence in an insurance claim and legal case. However, police officers are only human and are sometimes unaware of evidence that emerges later. So the police report can be disputed. Always ask for the police officer’s name and badge number, the police report number, and a copy of the report.
If the accident was wholly your fault, call your auto insurance company and file a claim under your collision coverage. If the accident was completely or partially the fault of the other driver, contact both your insurer and the other driver’s insurer.
When you and/or the other driver make an insurance claim, the insurance company will review the police report, as well as any medical reports filed by doctors and emergency medical responders.
If you hire a personal injury attorney, he or she will conduct a thorough, independent investigation. The lawyer may interview eye-witnesses, speak to doctors, consult with accident re-creation specialists, secure video footage and information from the vehicle’s black box, and much more. The insurance companies will weigh all this evidence to determine fault in a claim.
Very often, more than one driver is at fault in an accident. Let’s delve into how that affects compensation in various states.
Liability laws and compensation in different states
Each state has laws that govern how much compensation drivers will receive based on their degree of fault in the accident. Arizona, for example, follows the doctrine of pure comparative negligence, which divvies compensation according to the percentage each person is at fault in the accident. If 20 percent of the accident is your fault, you can receive 80 percent compensation for medical care and other expenses. So if the judge awards $10,000 in damages, you would receive $8,000. Other states that follow pure comparative negligence are Alaska, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington.
Colorado, on the other hand, is a modified comparative negligence state. This is similar to pure comparative negligence, with one crucial distinction. If you are 50 percent or more at fault for the accident, you cannot receive any compensation. As long as you are 49 percent or less responsible for the accident, you can recover a percentage of damages based on your degree of fault. So if the judge awards $10,000 in damages and you are 40 percent at fault, you would receive $6,000. Other states that follow the “50 percent bar” rule in modified comparative negligence are Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.
Illinois is also a modified comparative negligence state. However, it sets the bar at 51 percent. So if you are 50 percent or less liable for the accident, you can receive a percentage of compensation. Other states that set the modified comparative negligence bar at 51 percent include include Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia follow the doctrine of pure contributory negligence. In these places, if the accident is in any way your fault, you cannot collect any compensation. Even if the accident is only 5 percent your fault, you will not receive compensation.
To find out what kinds of compensation, or “damages,” you may be entitled to following an accident, read our detailed article here.
What to do after an accident
In order to build the strongest case possible, you’ll need to gather evidence and follow certain procedures. For a detailed list of what to do after an accident, read our article here.
Do consult with an experienced personal injury attorney before discussing your case with the other driver’s insurer. Insurance companies always try to settle for less compensation than you may deserve. An attorney can advise you about legal options, handle all the communication with the insurance companies, and help you get the most compensation possible.
The Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law Team offers free consultations. We only get paid if you get paid.