Disputing Fault In a Car Accident Case

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

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  • 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, here's what you need to know:

    • Disputing fault for a car accident most often means arguing against a car insurance company's finding that you were solely or mostly to blame for causing your crash.
    • It starts with letting the other side know you plan to fight any fault finding.
    • Next comes the hard part: building your best case to show you weren't the one at fault for your accident.
    • It's not too late a fair resolution to your car accident claim.

    What Is a Fault Finding After a Car Accident?

    After a car accident, once the car insurance companies are notified, an insurance agent will investigate the car accident and try to piece together what happened, and who might have been at fault. That usually means:

    • talking to everyone involved in the accident, and witnesses who might have seen any part of the crash, to piece together a narrative of how the crash happened
    • inspecting vehicles to figure out the nature and extent of damage and how those factors might inform the fault determination
    • examining documents (like any photos of the accident scene, the police report, traffic citations, and medical treatment records) to see if they point toward a potential cause of the accident.

    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) considers you to be at fault for the car accident, there are steps you can take.

    Disputing a fault finding starts with what you did at the scene of the car accident. Hopefully you:

    • got the names and contact information of any witnesses who saw any aspect of the crash
    • took 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 could, and
    • made sure you asked for a copy of any police report that was generated in connection with the crash.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you felt even the slightest hint of injury, it's crucial that you sought prompt and thorough medical attention as soon as possible, so the insurance company can't argue that you waited too long to get treatment.

    Here's what to do next.

    Let the Insurance Company Know You Don't Agree With Their Fault Decision

    Immediately notify the insurance company—via phone and in writing via a follow-up letter or email—that you disagree with their finding of fault and intend to take action by presenting new evidence and/or explaining/reframing the existing fault picture.

    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.

    Utilize the Insurance Company's Fault Dispute Processes

    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 car accident 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.

    Ask That the Police Report Be Amended

    If you disagree with the police report that was generated in connection with your car accident, attempt to speak with the investigating officer to present your side of the story. You might be able to ask that the officer add an addendum to the report, or fix an error that's provably wrong.

    Fight Any Ticket You Received Over the Accident

    If the insurance company's determination is based on the fact that you received a traffic violation in connection with the accident, you must fight the ticket in court. Even if you're not ultimately successful, the fact that you're willing to take this kind of action will show the insurance company that you're serious about protecting your rights. Learn more about fighting a traffic ticket.

    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.)

    Disputing Fault Might Not Be Worth It

    If you're found to be at fault for a car accident, it's not the end of the world. This is why you have car insurance, after all. Your car insurance rates might go up, but if there's enough coverage in place to pay any claim made by the other driver, and your own losses are covered, it might not make sense to dispute a fault finding (especially if it looks like it might be an accurate one). Learn more about what happens if you're at fault for a car accident.

    But if you're seriously injured, or there might not be enough insurance in play to cover all your losses, or you've experienced a significant amount of pain and suffering in the wake of the accident, spending the time and resources to fight on probably makes sense.

    Getting a Car Accident Lawyer's Help

    If you do decide to dispute a fault finding after a car accident, know that right or wrong, insurance companies tend to take lawyers more seriously than they do "civilians." If you're unrepresented, the chances of being ignored or bullied by an insurance adjuster are exponentially greater, especially if they say they have all the evidence they need to blame you for the accident.

    If you're disputing a fault finding, having a car accident lawyer on your side means your best case will be put together by a skilled professional. And if it's necessary to do so, a lawyer will take the lead on filing a car accident lawsuit if the insurance company won't move from its position. Learn more about when it's time to hire a car accident lawyer.

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