Last updated: December 2022

How to Determine Who's at Fault in an Accident

There are millions of car accidents in the U.S. every year. Depending on how long you've been driving, you may have already been involved in one. You probably checked for injuries first, called the police, and then wondered who was at fault. Then things got complicated.

Why Fault Matters

Determining fault is one of the most important steps after a car accident, as the at-fault party's insurance company generally helps pay for damages to the other driver and their vehicle. Most states look at fault to determine who pays after a car accident, but some don't (at least as to certain coverages).

States that don't operate on a fault-based system are called no-fault states. Currently, 12 states operate with no-fault auto insurance laws, including:

In no-fault states, drivers file claims with their own insurance company for injuries resulting from an accident, putting aside who was at fault. Drivers in these states are legally required to buy Personal Injury Protection (PIP), or no-fault insurance, with their car insurance policies. No-fault coverage doesn’t apply to vehicle damage or other property damage.

Understanding Your State's Definition of Fault

Insurance companies rely on a state's legal definition of negligence to help determine who is at fault in an accident and to pay damages accordingly. There are a few types of negligence that could come into play. It all depends on your state.

Two of the most common types are comparative and contributory.

  • With comparative negligence, you can be found to be entirely or partially at fault (some percentage) and only seek damages in proportion to that percentage. Percentages vary by state and are based on the totality of the evidence. The final percentage is based on the claims department's professional review of all the gathered evidence, knowledge of relevant state law, and their expertise and experience.
  • With contributory negligence, it's all or nothing. You're found to be either 100% blame-free or not and can only file with the other insurance company if you fall into the blame-free category. An example of a 100% blame-free situation would be if your car was parked legally, and another driver ran into it.

How is fault determined in a car accident?

If you’ve ever wondered what’s used to help determine fault following an accident, you’re not alone. An insurance company must be somewhat of a detective to determine who is liable for the crash. They'll rely on the police report, but also other materials or "clues."

You can help make sure the police report is accurate and helpful by taking pictures of both vehicles. Don't move your vehicle until the police show up and can analyze the scene. Work with the police officer to provide as much detail as possible, be truthful, and identify any witnesses who may be able to help explain what happened during the accident.

The insurance company will also consider statements from all relevant parties. These statements can include the officer's opinion from the police report, if available, along with witness statements. The company will take into account the physical damage to the vehicle, the nature and location of the damage, and any other relevant evidence that is brought to their attention.

What to Do After an Accident

Wondering what to do after a car accident that’s not your fault? What if you’re convinced you caused the crash? You can read detailed, step-by-step directions of what to do after an accident, but in general, you should:

  • Check for injuries.
  • Call 911 for a police dispatch and medical attention (if necessary).
  • Take pictures of the scene and vehicle damage.
  • Exchange information with other drivers and passengers.
  • Cooperate with police, get the police report number, and leave only when cleared to do so.
  • Contact your insurer as soon as possible.

Should you admit fault at the scene of an accident?

"Due to the potential ramifications of being found at fault for the accident, many personal injury lawyers advise clients not to admit fault at the scene of the accident," says HG.org.

Your best course of action at the scene of a car accident is to be kind and cooperate with the police. State what happened as clearly as you can and try to avoid making assumptions, whether you think you’re at fault or the other driver is at fault. It's up to the police officer and the insurance company to put the whole picture together using every clue available.

Who is at Fault by Accident Type

Every accident is unique and there is no way to know who is at fault without careful investigation and consideration of all the facts. For example, if one driver is found to be violating a traffic law, they could be found at fault when they normally wouldn’t.

However, if you’re wondering who is generally found to be the at-fault driver after a certain type of accident, here’s what legal experts say.

  • Who is at fault in a rear-end accident? The trailing driver is typically considered to be at fault in a rear-end accident, according to Nolo.
  • Who is at fault in a left-turn accident? Since drivers making a left turn are supposed to wait until their pathway is clear, the turning driver is typically found at fault, according to HG.
  • Who is at fault in a T-bone accident? Typically speaking, the driver who strikes the side of the other vehicle is often found at fault, according to HG.
  • Who is at fault in sideswipe accidents, merging accidents, and lane change accidents? Many states, like Texas, require drivers to stay in their lane unless there is a clear and safe way to change lanes. Legal experts say drivers who fail to do this are often found at fault in a crash.
  • Who is at fault in a parking lot accident? Parking lot accidents could be one of the several types of accidents discussed above. With vehicles reversing, pedestrians walking, and drivers determined to find the best spot, determining fault can be difficult, according to Nolo.

Car Accidents, Fault & Car Insurance Rates

What happens to your car insurance rates after an accident? Do they always go up, or does it depend on who is at fault? Here’s a brief explanation.

Do insurance rates go up after a no-fault accident?

If you’re not at fault in a car accident, your rate will most likely not go up. If it does, it will be minimal compared to the at-fault individual’s rate increase, says Experian. Your rate might increase if the driver who caused the crash can’t be identified (hit and run) or they don’t have proper insurance coverage. In this case, you might have to file a claim using your uninsured motorist coverage. If you live in one of the no-fault states we mentioned above, drivers file claims with their own insurer for injuries resulting from an accident. This means you could see a rate increase in the future, regardless of fault.

Do insurance rates go up after an at-fault accident?

If you're found to be at fault in a car accident, your insurance rates will not increase overnight. Your insurance company will look at the big picture, including your claim, driving, and policy history to determine if, when, and by how much your insurance rate could go up. However, an at-fault accident will generally cost you when you pay your premium in the future. Bankrate’s analysis says full coverage premiums increased by an average of $750 nationally after an at-fault crash. They note the number could be higher or lower in your state.

If you’re worried about your affordable car insurance becoming not-so-affordable after an accident, you can work to become eligible for different car insurance discounts, choose a higher insurance deductible, or drive an older vehicle. You could also see if traffic school could help keep your rates from rising or have accident forgiveness in place before a wreck.

Get covered with Direct Auto!

While we can't help you avoid an accident, we can help you stay prepared with the right information and coverage. Call 1-877-GO-DIRECT or come into a Direct Auto location near you to get a free quote today.

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