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How Is Fault Determined in a Multi-Vehicle Car Accident?

In the United States, approximately 6.75 million car accidents occur yearly, and police officers file an accident report for many of them. Each state has its own traffic laws and requirements regarding police reports; all injury and fatal crashes must be reported, but in some cases, no report is needed if the damages are below a minimum dollar amount.

States are either at-fault or no-fault where car accidents are concerned, and insurance claims for each category are handled differently. In some states, insurance companies will determine the degree of negligence for each driver.

What Happens When Police Arrive at the Scene of a Crash?

When law enforcement officers arrive at an accident scene, they will first arrange for injured persons to be transported to medical facilities. Next, they document everything they can about the crash using multiple sources of information. One of the reasons for doing this is to determine who is at fault in the accident.

Police look at multiple types of evidence, including:

  • The location, date and time of the accident
  • The position of each vehicle involved in the accident
  • The names, insurance information and contact information of each driver in the crash
  • The individual drivers’ statements describing the circumstances leading to the crash from their perspectives
  • Witness statements, including the witness’s name and contact information and their description of the crash details
  • The physical condition of each driver, including intoxication levels
  • Weather and road conditions at the time of the crash
  • The presence of skid marks and debris from the vehicles involved

Driver and witness statements can help determine who is at fault in crashes, but other resources are also available. If a traffic camera or drone is covering the location where the accident took place, footage can be obtained to show the accident as it happened. Similarly, home or business surveillance cameras may have captured the crash as well.

What Should You Do if You Are Involved in an Accident?

Assess the situation and assist injured persons; if there are no injuries, move your car to the side of the road. Then, call the police to report the accident so an officer can come to the scene and make a report.

If you feel comfortable doing so, speak to the drivers of other vehicles involved. However, attorneys do not recommend admitting fault for the accident to anyone at the scene.

Make your own version of the police report, including by taking photos and speaking to witnesses if possible. Make videos of witness statements if they are agreeable. During an investigation, pictures or videos can prevent a “he said, she said” situation.

Who Determines Fault in a Car Accident?

Fault can be determined in different ways, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Driver Agreement

Although drivers don’t have to admit fault, it is often blatantly obvious who caused the crash. In these circumstances, the drivers can agree on who is at fault at the scene.

Police Report

When completing accident reports, police officers state which party they think caused the crash. At times, the officer’s opinion is enough evidence. However, drivers and insurance companies can dispute the officer’s determination, so the outcome may be different even if a police report initially assigns blame.

Insurance Companies

After reviewing the available evidence, the drivers’ insurance providers can come to a fault agreement amongst themselves.

Arbitration

If the involved insurance companies can’t agree, the dispute goes to arbitration. This means that an unbiased third party will listen to all sides of the argument and make a determination. Insurance companies don’t always have their clients’ best interests in mind; instead, some companies will argue, trying to avoid paying for injuries and damages. In these cases, hiring a personal injury attorney can be invaluable.

Jury

Unfortunately, a few cases aren’t decided by other means and must go to court. A jury determines the outcome of these cases.

What Factors Contribute to Determining Fault?

Every accident has its own unique circumstances; however, some common factors are used when investigating a crash. Some of these can point towards a particular driver being at fault. These factors include:

Police Reports

Officers record written statements, take photos or videos and provide their opinion about the cause of the crash. Both the evidence and the officer’s determination are considered when investigating the case.

Rear-End Collisions

In most cases, the rear car is assumed to be at fault in rear-end collisions because that car was probably too close to the front vehicle and was unable to stop in time to avoid a crash as a result.

Traffic Laws

If one or more drivers broke traffic laws, that fact is used in the investigation.

Other Evidence Gathered at the Scene

People besides police officers may have recorded details about the accident, whether in verbal or written statements or photographic evidence. Investigators consider all available evidence.

Why Is Determining Fault Necessary?

It all comes down to money. Some car accidents are minor and don’t cost much in terms of compensation for injuries or property damage. However, serious accidents, especially those involving multiple cars, can be costly. No person or insurance company would want to voluntarily cover all costs resulting from the crash.

Although some state laws differ, typically the at-fault person, and therefore their insurance company, is responsible for paying for the medical and property damage for everyone involved in the crash. The at-fault party must be decided upon before these expenses are paid. However, health care and insurance policies sometimes pay for medical bills while an accident claim is investigated.

What About Multiple-Vehicle Car Accidents?

Determining fault is somewhat straightforward in crashes involving only one or two vehicles. When three or more vehicles are involved, the process becomes more complex.

In chain-reaction accidents, several individual crashes occur. Each accident must be investigated separately, and the order of the accidents determined. In the first collision, a driver is responsible. Other crashes that occur because of the first accident are often attributed to the at-fault driver in the first collision.

More than one driver can be assigned fault in multiple-vehicle accidents, and a thorough examination of all evidence must be performed to place blame accurately.

Have You Been Involved in a Car Accident?

The financial and legal aspects of a car accident can be confusing, and the average individual doesn’t have experience in handling all the components. Less experience means that you may not receive the compensation that you deserve.

A knowledgeable personal injury attorney can assist in many ways, such as:

  • Evaluating your case and devising a strategy for handling it
  • Using their familiarity with your state’s laws to investigate the circumstances of the crash
  • Properly processing your claim and the results of the investigation
  • Representing your interests when negotiating a settlement with the insurance company to maximize your compensation
  • Representing you during a trial

Many factors are considered when the fault is determined in a car accident, and multiple-vehicle crashes are more complex and require a more in-depth investigation. Insurance companies might not offer fair settlements without an attorney negotiating on your behalf.

The experienced attorneys at Fielding Law are ready to answer your questions and assess your needs during a free consultation.