Imagine that you were in a car accident. You were not at fault and there is significant damage to your car. You may even have had injuries that needed medical attention.
Now, imagine that the other driver, the one who was actually at fault, decided to blame you for the accident. What do you do to protect yourself and make sure that you are not found to be responsible for the accident?
Sadly, it is a common occurrence for the responsible party to blame others for the accident. There are many reasons they may do this including not wanting their insurance rates to go up or not wanting to get in trouble if any driving laws were broken. They may also claim that you were fully or partially at fault so that they have to pay you less money if you sue them for the accident.
What to Do at the Time of the Accident
The first thing you need to do is to make sure everyone is okay. Then, call the police. Call a non-emergency line if it is a minor accident. If it is a major accident, call 9-1-1 and report the accident and any injuries.
If possible, move the vehicles out of traffic to the side of the road. Do not make any statements about the accident and wait for the police to arrive.
No matter how small the accident it, you want to get a police report filed. This is helpful to identify the drivers, describe the cars and the accident, and collect driver information.
You want to also gather as much evidence as possible. Make sure to take pictures of the accident and the damage to any car. Try to capture driving conditions and any other factor that may have added to the accident. This information may be used in the future if there is a trial.
Know the Law
When a traffic accident goes to civil court and one driver is suing another, the person filing the suit must be able to show that the other driver was negligent. Negligence can be found in several ways, including:
- Drunk driving,
- Breaking a traffic law
- Distracted driving
- Driving without headlights when required, or
- Driving a car that is defective.
It can also be found by pedestrians or other non-drivers in ways such as jaywalking, breaking bicycling laws, or interfering with a driver.
Even if you can prove negligence, the other driver may not be fully liable for the accident if they can establish that there was a form shared fault. Shared fault is when more than one person caused or contributed to the accident. Shared fault defenses vary by state and are one of the following types:
1) Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence means that the court will distribute fault among the parties involved in the accident. This means that one party could be found liable for 30% of the accident and the other is found to be responsible for 70%. The one who was found to be 30% responsible can only recover 70% of their requested compensation because they cannot be reimbursed for their percentage of the cause of the accident.
Most states have adopted some form of comparative fault. In pure comparative negligence states like California, accident victims can always recover some compensation if they were injured. This is regardless of their amount of negligence, even if their fault level is higher than the other driver’s.
Other states had adopted modified comparative fault rules. This generally means that an accident victim is limited from recovery if their fault in the accident reaches a certain degree. For example, after a car accident in Pennsylvania, the defendant’s fault must be 50% or more for the other driver to recover any compensation.
2) Contributory Negligence
Contributory fault means that if you are found to have contributed to the accident in any way, you will not be able to recover compensation. The degree of your fault can be small or large but the result will be the same. You will be barred from being able to claim any sort of payment. This is a harsher form of shared fault and only a few states still use this including North Carolina and Virginia.
What to Do Next?
If you are planning on suing another driver or you are being sued, your first step should be to hire a personal injury lawyer. They should have extensive experience with car accident lawsuits in your jurisdiction.
If you are in a comparative or modified comparative negligence state, your lawyer will work to help calculate your fault to the lowest percentage possible. In a contributory negligence state, your lawyer will seek to show that you were not responsible for the accident in any way and you should be able to recover compensation.