Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC Articles How to Determine Fault in an Intersection Car Accident

How to Determine Fault in an Intersection Car Accident

By Jonathan Rosenfeld  Dec. 16, 2019 8:57a

Sometimes it is obvious who is at fault for a car accident. However, in many circumstances, determining responsibility is not so easy. There can be gray areas when concluding who is to blame for a vehicle accident.

The complexities of assigning responsibility can be extremely subjective. Additional factors can significantly complicate the determination of fault and vary by insurance company policies, law enforcement agencies, and the court system.

When the Police Determine Fault in a Vehicle Accident

When law enforcement arrives at a car accident scene, the officer has the responsibility to prepare a report detailing what happened. Typically, the officer interviews every driver and passenger in vehicles involved in the accident and talks with witnesses about what they might have observed.

Getting answers to questions can help law enforcement formulate the most accurate account to understand how the event occurred. Once the report is written, the officer will submit his or her findings to the Police or the Sheriff's Department.

Many times, the statement will conclude who is at fault for the vehicle accident. However, this information is often based solely on the professional judgment of the officer writing the report, which might not be accurate or complete.

The conclusions of the law enforcement report might not include a determination of responsibility and outline who is at fault for the accident. Even if fault is determined, the officer's conclusions do not automatically finalize who will be held liable (legally responsible) for any damages and losses paid in a lawsuit or claim.

The officer may be required to issue a traffic citation to the driver or drivers fully or partially responsible if it is found that laws or regulations were violated. One or more drivers may have exceeded the speed limit or made an unlawful lane change or turn. Receiving a citation typically requires the driver or drivers to appear in front of a judge in traffic court.

When the Insurance Company Determines Who Is at Fault

Every driver involved in a car accident will file a claim with their carrier or the insurance company of the person at fault for the accident. The paperwork is turned over to an adjuster who oversees the claim, investigates the event, and formulates an insurance settlement to resolve the claim.

Like the officer, the insurance adjuster will typically research the accident, obtain testimonies from witnesses, examine the damages involved, review medical records, and verify each detail of every policy, of all drivers involved, and their coverage amounts.

When the investigation is concluded, the adjuster will decide on behalf of the insurance company the legal responsibility (fault) for each driver and assign a percentage of responsibility to every driver.

Commonly, the insurance company will use the state's legal definition of 'negligence' to identify who is 'at fault.'

How the Court System Determines Liability in a Vehicle Accident

Most cases are settled out of court. However, some drivers may choose to file a lawsuit to recover damages in their vehicle accident to seek compensation for injuries or wrongful death. The attorneys handling the case will present arguments to the court, using evidence obtained in the lawyer's investigation.

Typically, the evidence includes driver and witness testimonies, police reports, accident reconstructions from certified professionals, and expert testimonies from doctors. At the trial's conclusion, a judge or jury will ultimately determine each driver's responsibility for the accident. The court will decide the vehicle accident case and order those at fault to pay the victim or victims' compensation for injuries, damages, wrongful death, and other losses.

It is crucial to understand that a law enforcement report or legal responsibility determined by an insurance company in no way controls the outcome of a judge or jury in a court case. Judges control each case through the rules of evidence and will decide what evidence is introduced to the jury during trial.

Many times, the judge might determine that a police report is considered 'hearsay' and not allow the jury to see the report written by an officer who did not witness the event. Additionally, the courts use a different set of rules that govern the determination of legal responsibility for vehicle accidents. These rules could include prior case precedents in your local jurisdiction.

Not Sure Who Might Be 'At Fault' in Your Case?

Even minor vehicle accidents can be a devastating event. Within minutes or days after the accident, you likely need to contact the police, talk with your insurance company, and consider filing a lawsuit. Each part of the experience can be overwhelming and complicated. Attorneys working on your behalf can ensure your rights are protected and take steps to prevent undesired outcomes in settling your case.

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