Disputing Fault in a Car Accident Case

Successfully disputing fault in a car accident case can mean the difference between a fair settlement and a denied claim.

If you've been involved in any kind of vehicle accident, and you believe you're being unfairly (and inaccurately) blamed for causing the crash, it's not too late to dispute liability and ensure a fair resolution to your car accident claim.

Fault Isn't Always an Issue in a Car Accident Case

It may seem strange to hear, but fault or liability -- the answer to the question "Who caused the crash?" -- is not a key issue in every kind of car accident claim.

For example, in a no-fault car insurance state, a determination of fault is irrelevant to most car accident injury claims, by statutory design. That's because no-fault schemes dictate that a policyholder will first (and usually exclusively) collect compensation for any losses from his or her own insurer. Only in specific circumstances does fault come into play in no-fault states. Specifically, the claimant's injuries must meet a certain threshold in order for the claimant to step outside of no-fault and make a liability claim directly against the at-fault driver.

So, if you're in a car accident in one of the dozen or so no-fault states, and the other driver is saying you caused the accident, you may not have anything to worry about. (But keep in mind that since no-fault car insurance almost never applies to vehicle damage claims, if you're making a claim for damage to (or total loss of) your car or truck, fault for the accident will likely be a relevant factor in determining whose insurance will cover your losses.)

How to Dispute Fault for a Car Accident

If you're involved in a car crash in one of the many fault-based car insurance states, and an insurance company (either yours or another driver’s) denies your claim because they wrongfully consider you to be at fault for the car accident, you need to immediately notify the insurance company -- via phone and in writing via a follow-up letter -- that you dispute their finding of fault.

If the insurance company's determination is based on the fact that you received a traffic violation in connection with the accident, or if the insurer is basing its conclusion on the police report issued in the wake of the incident, you must fight the ticket in court and/or attempt to speak with the investigating officers to present your side of the story. If you disagree with the police report, you may even be able to get it amended.

Often, voicing your disagreement will result in further investigation that could lead to revised findings. At the very least, it begins to create a record of your disagreement that may be important further down the line.

Some insurance companies have internal policies regarding disputed fault investigations, and you may be asked to give a statement or present your side of the story to an insurance adjuster. It is important to know your rights in these situations, as you don’t want to make any kind of statement that may hinder your ability to recover should your claim proceed to the lawsuit phase. If you are disputing liability, it may make sense to get a lawyer involved on your side, even if just in an advisory capacity.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

Proving fault starts with what you do at the scene of the car accident. If your injuries are minor and it's safe to do so, get the names and contact information of any witnesses who saw any aspect of the crash. Take photos of the positions of (and damage) to the vehicles, any accident debris, skid marks, and as many relevant aspects of the scene as you can. Finally, see if you can get a law enforcement officer to come to the scene and write up a report. And if you're at all injured, get prompt and thorough medical attention as soon as possible, so the insurance company can't argue that you waited too long to get treatment.

When You May Need a Car Accident Lawyer's Help

Right or wrong, insurance companies take lawyers more seriously than they do "civilians," and they are less likely to give attorneys the runaround. If you’re unrepresented, the chances of being ignored or bullied by an insurance adjuster are exponentially greater. Your best move may be to discuss your situation with a car accident lawyer, especially if you're disputing fault.

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