Determining who is legally responsible in an auto accident requires identifying who the negligent party is. In most cases, it’s a matter of common sense, but often drivers don’t know exactly which laws were broken by the at-fault party. This makes it more difficult to prove a case to an insurer when making a claim.
When you’re not sure who did what, where can you find out?
1. Police Reports
If you or the other party called the police or 911 after the accident to report injuries, there will be a police report, and you can contact your local law enforcement traffic division to ask for a copy of the report.
Many police reports contain a responding officer’s opinion about who was at-fault. If one party clearly violated any laws, the officer will have documented it in the report.
Typically, any mention of the other party breaking traffic laws will be enough to tell your insurer that you were not at fault.
2. State Laws
If the report doesn’t have the information you need, you can also search your state traffic laws to find out whether the other party violated the law.
You can often find information on the DMV website. A driver handbook also will typically outline most instances of traffic violations. The handbooks are written in laymen’s terms so they are easy to understand.
3. No-Doubt Liability
In some accidents, the other driver is almost always considered at-fault.
For example, if another motorist hits the back of your car, the insurance company will typically consider them at-fault because they were most likely following too closely or failed to react in time when you put on your brakes.
A basic rule of the road in every state is that a driver should follow the vehicle ahead at a safe enough distance to be able to stop even if the other person brakes suddenly.
In a rear-end accident, the damage itself may serve as proof. One driver’s vehicle will be damaged on the front end, and the other driver’s vehicle will have damage to the rear.
However, even if you were rear-ended, there are still a few situations where your own carelessness may be considered a contributing factor to the accident, including brake lights that needed to be replaced or other mechanical issues that should have been repaired.
Left-turn accidents also don’t leave much wiggle room for which driver is considered at-fault. Anyone turning left who is struck by a vehicle going straight from the opposite direction is considered at-fault unless: 1) They were making the left turn at a green arrow; 2) they were at a 4-way stop and had the right-of-way; or 3) the oncoming vehicle was speeding excessively, making it difficult to judge the distance for a safe turn.