When you’re at fault for a car accident, your insurance pays for the other driver’s car repairs and any doctor’s bills if they’re injured. Even so-called no-fault states care about fault – medical payments are the only aspect of no-fault insurance that is truly “no fault” and pays out regardless of who caused the accident. There is always “fault” for property damage from an accident.
Most states require at least a minimum amount of liability car insurance. After an accident, an insurance company covers the other person’s car and medical bills, up to the limits on the at-fault driver’s policy. Your insurance might pay for your car repairs and doctor bills, too – it just depends on your coverage.
When you buy a car insurance policy, you can choose coverage for your own car repairs, even if the damage is from a collision you caused. You can also choose to buy coverage for your own medical bills. Without those types of insurance, you’re responsible for paying your car repair and hospital bills. Of course, if the other driver is at fault, their insurance covers any damage they caused.
At-fault vs no-fault states
The majority of states are “at-fault,” which means one of the drivers is found responsible after an accident. Then their insurance pays for any damage the driver caused to other people or property. There is also such a thing as “partial fault,” where multiple drivers share partial blame for causing the accident.
In “no-fault” states, each driver’s car insurance covers their own medical bills, along with those of their passengers, no matter the circumstances of the accident. But in some states, one or both drivers are still determined to be at-fault for other types of damage. As a result, the at-fault driver’s insurance may be used to cover non-medical claims. And in any no-fault state, a driver can be sued for medical coverage if the other driver has severe injuries.
How to tell who is at fault in a car accident
After a car accident, the police interview you, the other driver, and any witnesses to find out what happened. They also examine the cars, determine which driver had the right of way, and consider whether anyone broke the law – by driving under the influence or running a stop sign, for example.
Then your car insurance company reviews the police report and any information you give them when notifying them of the accident or during the claims process. The amount of time it takes to reach a conclusion depends on the number of cars and people involved, and the circumstances of the crash.
I was at fault in a car accident – will my rates go up?
Typically, yes – your rates go up after an at-fault accident. However, a spike in your costs isn’t 100% guaranteed. Before deciding to charge you more, your insurance company takes your driving record into account. If this is your first accident on an otherwise clean record, they might not change your rates.
Some companies also offer accident forgiveness, which you can purchase to keep an at-fault accident from affecting your premium.
What to do after a car accident when you might be at fault:
Make sure everyone is safe. Move your cars out of danger if you’re in the middle of the road. Call 911 if anyone needs medical attention.
Don’t admit fault, even if you feel like you caused the accident. It’s not your job to decide who caused the crash, and you don’t have all the information yet. For all you know, the other driver was on their phone or driving on a suspended license.
Call the police using your local non-emergency number. Let the police gather evidence and be sure to answer any questions they ask once they arrive. Ask for their report number before you leave.
Take pictures. Use your phone to document any vehicle or property damage, along with the position of the cars that were involved before you move them, if possible. Also get some pictures of your surroundings (like relevant traffic signs) and any injuries that you sustained.
Trade information with the other driver. Get a full name, driver’s license number, insurance policy number, cell phone number, and license plate number.
Call your insurance company. Let your car insurance provider know what happened and give them the information you collected, including the police report number.
Remember, the fact that you feel like you caused an accident doesn’t mean you’re at fault. Wait to hear back from your insurance company. Then handle any insurance claims you might need to make.
If you’re at fault, your rates might go up for the next 3-5 years, but there’s no reason to panic. There are multiple ways to lower your car insurance costs, and you can always switch car insurance companies to find a better rate.
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