An at-fault accident is a collision caused by at least one of the drivers acting carelessly or violating the rules of the road. When a driver is at-fault for an accident, they are responsible for financial damages stemming from the collision.
It’s possible for multiple drivers to share the fault for a single accident, in which case each state’s negligence laws dictate how damages are paid. For example, if two drivers get into an accident, the driver who was speeding might be 30% responsible, and the driver who ran a red light could be 70% responsible.
Fault matters in an accident because it determines who is financially liable for the damages. No matter what, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance is responsible for covering any property damage they caused. In most states, their liability insurance will also cover the other driver’s medical expenses. The exception to this is no-fault states, which require each driver to use their own insurance to pay for medical bills after an accident.
If your car is totaled and you’re not at fault, you should file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company and report the accident to your own insurer as well. The other driver’s property damage liability coverage will reimburse you for your car’s actual cash value up to their policy limits. Actual cash value, or ACV, is the amount the car was worth immediately before the accident.… read full answer
Where to File a Claim if Your Car Is Totaled but You're Not At-Fault
In the event that the other driver does not have insurance, you can file a claim with your uninsured motorist or collision coverage, if you have it. You can also file a collision claim if the other driver refuses to admit fault. In this case, the insurance companies will eventually determine who is responsible. Then, your insurer will recoup the cost of your collision claim and deductible in a process called subrogation.
Insurance companies decide if a car is totaled by comparing the cost of repairs to the car’s value. Exact formulas vary by state and insurance company. However, it’s worth noting that repairs are often more extensive than they appear, and even a small accident can sometimes total a vehicle.
You can tell who is at fault in a car accident by considering driver and witness statements, dash cam footage, the location of vehicle damage, the position of the vehicles, or any citations issued after the accident. Insurance companies will also use adjustors and accident reconstruction experts to determine fault in car accidents. These expects consider factors such as the point of impact, evidence of sudden acceleration, and the angle of the steering wheel.… read full answer
How to Determine Fault in a Car Accident
Take pictures of the vehicle damage and accident scene.
Find witnesses who saw what happened.
Give your statement to the police and file a report, to aid in their investigation.
Provide the insurance adjuster with all of your evidence and information.
Who Determines Fault After a Car Accident?
When you file a claim after a car accident, the insurance company will assign an adjuster to your case. Adjustors evaluate all of the evidence related to the accident and determine who is at fault.
Insurance adjusters make this decision using the legal definition of negligence, which is when a driver fails to exercise the same amount of caution that a “reasonable person” would under the same circumstances.
States have different ways of handling at-fault accidents based on the degree of negligence shown by each driver. Each system affects how damages can be awarded differently, too.
State Negligence Laws & Fault in Car Accidents
Expenses are covered based on the degree of responsibility that each driver has for the accident. Used in 12 states, including California and Florida.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Your expenses will only be covered by the other driver’s insurance if you are less than 51% at fault. Used in 33 states, including Texas and Illinois.
You cannot recoup expenses at all if you share any blame for the accident. Used in five states, including Maryland and Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.
How to Make the Fault Determination Process Easier
The more information and evidence that you gather after a car accident, the easier the insurance adjuster’s job will be. Since liability can sometimes come down to your word versus the other driver’s, get the names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident. Also, prior to leaving the scene, take plenty of pictures of the damage to both vehicles, the debris from the accident, and anything in your surroundings that could be relevant.
You might need to call the police and file a report, too, depending on the extent of any injuries and property damage. Officers might issue citations as they investigate the accident, and while a citation doesn’t legally prove who was at fault, it could be used as evidence of negligence in a lawsuit.
It takes 3 to 5 years for car insurance to go down after an at-fault accident in most cases. Three years is a common penalty period for property damage claims. Insurance companies penalize drivers longer for accidents causing serious bodily harm or resulting from reckless or intoxicated driving. Premium increases vary widely by state and insurer, but the average increase is 41% after a single claim of $2,000 or more.… read full answer
Rates increase after an at-fault accident both to pay for the fees associated with filing a claim and to compensate the insurer for taking a higher risk. Drivers who have caused one accident are statistically more likely to be involved in another one.
Of course, if you pay for a policy with “accident forgiveness,” your rates won’t be raised for your first at-fault accident. Even without accident forgiveness, some insurance companies may give you a pass if it’s your first auto accident on a spotless driving record. Also, minor fender benders with less than $2,000 in damage may not trigger rate hikes.
However, no matter how minor your accidents are, if you have more than one within 6 years, or you have a combination of tickets and claims within 2-3 years, you are likely to face higher rates. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to pay for minor accident damage out of your pocket than to file a claim and trigger a rate increase.
Unfortunately, even if the accident you’re involved in isn’t your fault, you may find your insurance premium going up if you make a claim. This practice is prohibited by some states, but a study by the Consumer Federation of America found that most drivers who have made claims for not-at-fault accidents experienced rate increases of 8%-12%. For the insurance company, how much you’ve cost them is the most important consideration.
If age or inexperience, rather than accidents or violations, are the cause of your high premiums, you should see some decrease each year. If you’re a young driver, the biggest drop will come when you turn 25. If you are an older new driver, the largest decrease will come when you have five years of safe driving behind you.
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