It's not unusual in car accident cases for one driver to say that the collision happened one way, and for the other driver to say something completely different.
"The light was green," one driver may claim.
"No, it was red," the other driver may insist.
So how do you prove fault in a car accident case when your version of events conflicts with the other driver's? The outcome of these types of cases usually turns on:
Let's take a closer look at these four factors.
Credibility equals believability. If the driver who hit you blames you for the accident but doesn't appear to be credible, a jury probably won't accept that driver's story. But what makes someone credible (or not credible)?
Courts typically tell jurors to consider the following when evaluating credibility:
Learn more about how witness credibility affects a car accident claim.
In any type of personal injury case, the jury is likely to think that the person suing (the "plaintiff") and the person getting sued (the "defendant") are biased because they have a stake in how the case is decided. They are, after all, arguing over money.
Neutral witnesses (sometimes called "third-party witnesses") have no personal interest in the outcome of the case, which is why they can be the most important witnesses at trial. Jurors tend to believe the testimony of neutral car accident witnesses, as long as they are credible.
Having a neutral witness on your side can make or break your case. If the other driver testifies that the accident was all your fault, but three neutral witnesses testify that the accident happened the way that you say it happened, you'll likely win the case.
The best time to find a neutral witness is right after the accident. You should always try to get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone who might have witnessed part or all of your accident, or who might have witnessed the other driver's behavior and actions before or after the crash.
Learn more about what to do after a car accident.
Physical evidence (sometimes called "real evidence") is evidence that can be seen, held, or observed at the accident scene, as opposed to a witness's description of the accident. Physical car accident evidence includes the vehicles involved in the accident and the accident scene itself, typically documented in photographs.
When the physical evidence clearly shows which driver was at fault for an accident, it doesn't matter what the drivers say about how the accident went down, because the jury is likely to decide the case based on what the physical evidence shows.
So, when the physical evidence favors the plaintiff, the defense attorney will likely advise the defendant to make a generous settlement offer. And when the physical evidence favors the defendant, then the plaintiff's lawyer will usually have a long talk with the plaintiff about why it's time to take a modest offer and move on.
If it's safe to do so and you have a camera or a camera phone, take pictures immediately after the car accident. Try to get shots of both cars and the accident scene from as many angles as possible before you leave the scene.
Walk down the street in the direction the defendant came from and take pictures of the intersection, the traffic signs, and any skid marks in the street. Take pictures of the debris from the cars, if there was any. Try to document the exact point of the collision.
If you don't have a camera or aren't physically able to take pictures because you were injured in the accident, have a friend or relative take pictures of the intersection and your car as soon as possible—certainly before you get your car repaired.
Many states have laws that require drivers to inform local law enforcement (and sometimes the Department of Motor Vehicles) about car accidents involving injuries or property damage that exceeds a certain amount.
Either way, if you get hurt or suffer vehicle damage in a car accident that you believe is another driver's fault, call the local police or sheriff's department and ask that an officer be sent to the scene. An officer will prepare a police report with crash-related details, statements from those involved, and other important information.
Keep in mind that jurors tend to give a lot of weight to a police officer's testimony. Officers are usually seen as objective (neutral) and official. So make sure you clearly and carefully tell the responding officer exactly what happened, perhaps even in writing, so that your version of events is preserved in the police report.
Some car accident cases are fairly straightforward. For example, if you have only minor injuries and everyone agrees that the other driver was at fault for the accident, you can probably represent yourself. You'll have to invest some time and effort to learn about the insurance claim process and write a demand letter, but chances are you'll be able to reach a fair settlement.
If you're dealing with a "he said, she said" situation, you'll probably need to hire a car accident lawyer. Hiring a lawyer can be a worthwhile investment when:
A lawyer can help you get the best possible outcome in your case when there is a factual dispute about what happened. Lawyers are trained to help gather the evidence you'll need to support your version of events, negotiate with insurance adjusters, and advocate for you in court if you end up there.
Some of the steps you can take to help yourself after a car accident—like getting a copy of the police report—are steps that you can take on your own.
But if you believe you're being blamed for a crash that wasn't your fault, you might need the hire a professional who can help you dispute fault for the accident. Most car accident lawyers offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis. If you win your case or reach a settlement, you will pay your lawyer a percentage of the money you receive. If you lose your case, you don't have to pay your lawyer a fee, though you may be on the hook for some costs, like court filing fees.
Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.