rear-end car accident

Determining Fault for a Car Accident

March 6, 2023

There are many advantages to hiring a car accident lawyer after being involved in a wreck. One of the most important reasons to consult an attorney is the skill and experience needed to identify who is at fault.

Some car accidents are the fault of a single driver. Others occur due to the combined negligence of multiple motorists, while still others may also involve the liability of one or more third parties.

Identifying who is at fault for a car accident is not always straightforward. The Haynes Firm will investigate thoroughly and collect evidence to build a strong case on your behalf.

Talk to an experienced car accident lawyer about your case. Call 423-928-0165 today for a FREE evaluation.

Who Usually Determines Which Party Is Legally Responsible for an Auto Accident?

Multiple parties may have an interest in answering the question, “Who is at fault for a car accident?” This question is especially important to insurance companies. After all, if it is established that one of their insureds was at fault, insurance is required to pay for damages.

Other parties that may be involved in determining fault for a collision include:

  • The police: State, county, or local law enforcement is required to investigate most car accidents in Tennessee (see Tennessee Code § 55-10-106). In addition to satisfying the reporting requirement, the primary role of law enforcement in investigating fault is to determine whether any of the drivers involved in the accident violated the law.
    • A determination by law enforcement that a party is at fault is powerful evidence that insurance companies will consider. However, law enforcement determination of fault is not conclusive, and there have been many occasions where law enforcement determined fault incorrectly, or performed a less than thorough investigation.
  • Personal injury lawyers: Proving fault is necessary to recover damages for a car wreck. A personal injury attorney will investigate the accident with the goal of determining how the negligence of another party or parties led to the client’s injuries.
  • Drivers and passengers: Of course, the drivers of the vehicles in the accident will anxiously await the determination of fault because it will affect their right to compensation. The same is true for passengers, who may be able to bring a claim against the driver of the vehicle they were in, the driver of the other vehicle, or both.
  • Eyewitnesses: Eyewitnesses to the crash, whether they are other motorists or pedestrians, can be valuable in proving who is at fault in a crash. This is particularly true in red light crashes where the intersection is not equipped with cameras. Following a crash, it is important to obtain a statement from any eyewitness so that their recollection is preserved for use in the future.

Unsurprisingly, disputes may arise among the different parties involved in or investigating the crash. A car accident lawyer can protect your rights and fight to obtain the compensation you deserve.

How Does Insurance Determine Whose Fault It Is?

The insurance carriers for each of the drivers involved in the crash will investigate to determine who is at fault. An insurance adjuster may look at a number of different factors to assess fault and liability, including:

  • Positioning of the vehicles in the crash
  • The location of damage to the vehicles
  • Statements from drivers and passengers
  • Photos of the accident scene
  • In-person examination of skid marks, debris, and other evidence
  • The police report
  • Eyewitness statements and interviews with witnesses
  • Video footage of the crash (if available)

If an insurance adjuster for the other driver’s carrier tries to contact you, it is important to be cautious. You should not agree to make a recorded statement or provide access to your medical records without first speaking with a lawyer. It is also important not to accept a settlement offer without speaking to a car accident lawyer first.

How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

Some car accidents are clearly the fault of a single driver. In other cases, however, responsibility may be shared by multiple parties.

The insurance company may use such a finding to dispute liability or pay you less in damages. If this happens, a car accident lawyer can take action on your behalf to ensure that fault is assigned correctly and your damages are properly calculated.

Your attorney will rely on much of the same evidence used by the insurance company to determine fault, including:

  • Photos of the accident
  • Witness testimony
  • A copy of the crash report
  • Inspection of the vehicles
  • Video of the crash
  • And more

Ultimately, the insurance company’s goal when investigating the crash is to protect its bottom line. A car accident lawyer’s investigation, meanwhile, will be focused on the client’s right to fair compensation.

If someone else is responsible for the accident, you shouldn’t have to bear the burden of your injuries alone. Prompt investigation and timely gathering of evidence will enable an attorney to advocate for your best interest and seek a favorable outcome.

What If I Was Partly At Fault for the Accident?

You should never assume that you are at fault, let alone simply take the insurance adjuster’s word that you are responsible for the crash. Evaluation of your case by a lawyer may reveal evidence to the contrary.

However, if there is evidence that you are partly to blame, this does not necessarily bar you from recovering damages. Tennessee follows what is known as the “49 percent rule” in cases involving issues of comparative negligence (see the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in McIntyre v. Balentine). A plaintiff (i.e., the injured party) may be entitled to damages so long as his share of fault is less than that of the defendant(s). In other words, your share of fault for the accident must be valued at 49% or less for your claim to be viable.

Most car accident cases do not go to trial. However, if fault is disputed and the insurance company refuses to settle, it may be necessary to go to court. The court will be responsible for determining who is at fault and assessing what damages—if any—are owed to the plaintiff. If you are awarded compensation but are found to be partially at fault, the court will reduce the award by the percentage of fault attributed to you (up to 49%).

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer Today

Fault for car crashes is often disputed. Nobody wants to be held responsible, and no one wants to be forced to pay up.

At The Haynes Firm, our attorneys have the experience, knowledge, and skills to represent clients effectively in car accident claims. We combine relentless legal advocacy with compassionate and client-focused service to ensure that all of your needs are met at every stage of the case.

For a FREE case consultation, contact The Haynes Firm today. Our car accident lawyers serve clients in Johnson City and nearby areas of Tennessee.

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