Determining Fault in a Car Accident
When someone crashes into your car, the mere fact that you’re involved in a collision is usually stressful and frustrating. If you’re injured and the other driver denies responsibility, frustration and stress often escalate to anger. While some drivers wouldn’t consider lying about hurting someone else in an accident, others have no problem with dishonesty if it protects them from a negative outcome. You should know what to do just in case you have to prove that the other driver hit your car instead of the other way around.
Drivers don’t always lie about accident circumstances. Sometimes they truly believe they aren’t at fault even when the facts say otherwise. When a negligent driver is simply mistaken about their fault, their version often contains enough facts to verify what really happened. When they tell an outright lie, getting to the truth becomes more of a challenge.
Bad Drivers Can Lie About the Car Accident
It seems unthinkable that a driver would simply lie about causing an accident that hurt someone else. People with a bad driving history sometimes feel compelled to lie because they have a lot to lose. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association’s driver data provides some insight into chronically bad driving habits. It illustrates a trend of repeat traffic violations among the 52,274 drivers involved in fatal accidents during 2017.
- 8,468 drivers had previous crashes on their driving records.
- 8,639 drivers had prior speeding convictions.
- 8,468 had previous license suspensions.
- 7,366 drivers didn’t have a valid license when the crash occurred.
Drivers sometimes lie because telling the truth could mean major penalties and financial losses. A driver might lie if they’re a point or two away from losing their license or their job depends on bouncing back from a poor driving history. If the driver is already rated high risk, another accident or citation may mean an unaffordably expensive insurance premium.
Determining Fault for a Car Accident is Important
If you can’t prove that an accident was the other driver’s fault, you have a lot to lose as well. Your financial losses begin if the police officer cites you and you must pay a fine. It continues when you pay your collision deductible before you can have your vehicle repaired. It’s often emotionally draining when you know that you’re not at fault but you must jump through hoops to convince your insurance company that you did nothing wrong. If they pay the other person’s liability claims anyway, it can change your safe driver rating for years.
If your insurance company decides to renew your auto policy, an at-fault accident usually increases your renewal premium. If they drop your coverage, you’ll pay a high premium to your new insurance carrier. If your job requires that you use a company car or drive on company business, your employer may reassign you to a different position or even let you go.
When you receive an accident citation, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles places a crash entry on your record. The entry remains on your driving record for three to five years. Each new insurer will refer to it during their rating process. An employer may access your driving history as part of a pre-employment investigation.
It’s up to You to Preserve the Evidence of Car Accident Negligence
Sometimes, you won’t know that the other driver misled an investigating police officer until your insurance company tells you what’s on the police report. When officers conduct accident scene investigations, they document driver information, physical evidence, and each driver’s version of the accident. For example, if the other driver tells the investigating officer that he had the green light and you had the red, the officer will document that as his version. It’s up to you to prove otherwise. If you wait until several days later, you will have lost your best opportunity to help prove who hit whom.
Call 911 after your crash. While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, explore the accident scene and document what you see. Your personal “site investigation” will help preserve some of the evidence you need to prove that the other driver hit you.
Capture the Moment of a Car Accident
Immediately after an accident, the scene is still fresh. The crash site is as close as you’ll get to the way everything was the moment the accident occurred. Drivers move their vehicles out of the roadway but not immediately. Bystanders and witnesses gather at the periphery of your accident scene. The weather conditions and lighting are the same as they were moments before. It’s the perfect time for you to capture the accident evidence before everything changes.
Your Personal Car Accident Site Investigation
If you are injured and can’t get out of your car, ask a passenger or a bystander to help. It’s that important! Your cell phone camera is perfect for capturing the evidence and forwarding it to your insurance company after you make your accident report.
Get photos of these key things:
- Close-ups: Take a photo of the accident scene before the other driver moves their car. Get a close up of the points of contact, any new and old damage, and the license plate. Step back and take distance photos to show how the vehicles came to rest immediately after the crash. Take at least one photo showing both cars completely.
- Background and crash area: Photograph the accident scene from a distance. Be sure to include background, traffic signals, traffic lights, the roadway, accident debris, and any signs designating the intersection.
- The other driver. Take photos of the other driver’s license and insurance card. If you can manage it, discreetly take a photo of the other driver.
- Witnesses: Ask bystanders if any of them witnessed the accident. If they did, ask for their names and contact information to pass along to your insurance company. Witnesses often feel more comfortable giving the information to you than to a police officer.
Accident scenes often change by the time a police officer arrives. Drivers leave without identifying themselves. Witnesses simply walk away. In just a few moments you will have preserved these details in a more dynamic way than any oral version could have described it. You’ll have information your insurance company can’t get otherwise.
Your Insurance Company’s Claim Investigation
When there is a dispute about who hit whom, your insurance company conducts a liability investigation. While they have a contractual duty to pay you regardless of fault, they owe the other driver only if your negligence caused or contributed to their damages.
You must report your claim immediately so your insurer can initiate a timely investigation. When you make your initial accident report, you must make it clear that you don’t believe you were at fault. If you must give your insurer your statement, share only provable facts – do not include speculation or opinion.
Share Your Site Investigation
When you hear from the insurance representative assigned to handle your claim, don’t feel shy about sharing the evidence you collected at the accident site. Forward your photos and any other information so they will have it as a reference. Your site investigation provides information that helps back up your version of the event. It also lets the claim representative know that you’re conscientious and that you’re serious when you say you’re not at fault.
If both you and the other driver sustained injuries, your claim will be handled by an experienced claims representative. That’s better for you in the long run. A seasoned adjuster understands more about relevant liability issues. They will be more likely to appreciate your site investigation and gain the most from the information you provide. If it’s only a property damage claim, a less experienced adjuster may handle it. They won’t likely have the experience to recognize all of the liability issues.
Sorting Through the Liability Issues of a Car Accident
When a questionable liability injury claim has a high value, insurance companies put more energy and effort into disputing the claim. They may investigate a site, but by the time they get there, everything will have changed. They also get driver and witness’ versions, police reports and other relevant information. They review and evaluate each piece of evidence to determine fault.
Drivers’ statements. Sometimes a driver says they aren’t at fault but their statement indicates that they are. When an insurance investigator takes a recorded statement, they listen for key words and phrases. They ask the same questions in different ways and listen to the responses with a critical ear. Most drivers don’t know legal issues well enough to generate a lie that covers all the bases. They often reveal the details even when they’re trying to hide or disguise them. When an insurance investigator asks questions in person, they also might see visible discomfort and agitation which can signal that the driver is lying.
An experienced insurance investigator has heard the same types of accident stories over and over again. They usually recognize when a driver is lying or stretching the truth. Witness statements. An unbiased witness is a person who saw the accident but wasn’t involved in the crash and has nothing to gain or lose from telling the truth. When determining fault, their version is usually more important than a driver’s.
Vehicle damage. Often, an experienced auto damage appraiser can look at the damage to both involved vehicles and know which one caused the initial impact. They discuss the drivers’ versions with the claim representative and try to match up the damage with what the drivers say happened. Then they look at the damage location, the paint swipes, dents and dings, broken tail lights, and missing parts that were left as debris in the street. They look at old damage and examine areas of rust and wear to confirm whether or not it’s old damage or related to the current accident.
After examining one of the vehicles, an experienced appraiser can explain how, when, and where the vehicle was hit. When an appraiser looks at both vehicles, they can usually determine who hit whom.
Other Investigative Resources for Your Accident
When an insurance company’s claims personnel and resources aren’t enough to determine the truth, they sometimes rely on outside resources and experts. Because experts are usually costly, claim departments only turn to them when an injury case has a high value or when they need an expert witness for a court case.
Surveillance and traffic cameras. Cameras are everywhere. They’re on poles, at intersections, in businesses, and on top of buildings. They record everything, which is exactly the point. The problem with cameras is that you have to figure out where they are, find out who controls them, and access them before the owner deletes the footage you need. You may need a legal representative to issue a subpoena for the right to view and copy the footage.
Accident reconstruction expert. Accident reconstructionists sometimes call themselves Forensic Engineers. They specialize in fields such as mechanical or biomechanical engineering. In addition to basic accident reconstruction and analysis, they perform digital services such as “Human Factor Analysis” and “3-D Evidence Preservation.”
Accident Reconstructionists examine accident scenes and vehicle damage and draw conclusions based on physical evidence. They often come up with the same conclusions as an insurance investigator or an auto appraiser, but their credentials allow them to provide trial testimony as an expert witness.
Vehicle event data recorders. You might not realize that your vehicle has an Event Data Recorder (EDR). Vehicle manufacturers have been installing them since Federal Transport Code Part 563 established an EDR mandate in 2012. They function in ways similar to an airplane’s “black box.” EDRs record a vehicle’s activities in the moments before and during an impact. Recorded data includes steering wheel angle, restraint use, lateral and longitudinal acceleration, dashboard warning lights, and other factors. They collect data primarily during a front end collision or when an accident deploys a vehicle’s airbags. This data may be instrumental in resolving liability issues.
Due to privacy issues, only an owner can give permission to download their vehicle’s EDR data. An attorney can subpoena the other driver’s data during litigation discovery. Downloading and interpreting the data requires assistance from a forensic engineer or another expert.
The Good News When Determining Car Accident Fault
The good news is that an insurance company doesn’t usually try to undermine their insured’s position on liability. Unless the evidence confirms that you were at fault, they handle the other person’s claims as though you weren’t legally liable for their damages. This doesn’t mean that they will pay the other driver nothing. Florida’s Comparative Fault Statute recognizes that more than one person can contribute to an accident. To protect you from future litigation, your insurance carrier might offer a small settlement based on the other driver’s vehicle and personal injury damages.
The Bad News When Determining Car Accident Fault
The other driver’s insurer will likely look at the accident from their insured’s point of view. They will investigate with the end goal of proving that you were at fault. Unless they produce overwhelming evidence that their insured is lying about who hit whom, you may end up with a liability stalemate where you both contribute nominally to each other’s damages.
Call a Personal Injury Attorney if You Need Help
You need immediate legal assistance when the other driver claims that you hit them when you know it didn’t happen that way. A personal injury attorney helps you manage your insurance company contacts and makes sure you don’t jeopardize your legal rights. Lawyers work to sort through any legal issues and they may have additional resources to help you prove your claim against the other driver.
When you arrange a legal consultation, you don’t have to make a commitment. An attorney simply discusses your case and reviews your options. You decide to move forward only when you’re ready.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765