How is fault determined after a car accident?
Last updated: January 1
Insurance companies determine fault after a car accident based on state laws and details of the accident. Read on to learn more.
What is a no-fault car accident?
A no-fault car accident occurs in states with no-fault insurance laws. In 16 states, drivers are required to have personal injury protection on their car insurance policy. Personal injury protection (PIP) helps pay for your medical expenses after a car accident, regardless of who caused it.
Note that property damage claims are still paid on an at-fault basis in no-fault states. That means if your car is damaged by another driver, their insurance coverage may help pay for your vehicle repairs.
What is an at-fault car accident?
An at-fault car accident occurs in states without PIP coverage laws. The at-fault driver's car insurance helps cover injury and property damage claims.
After a car accident, it's important to take a few key steps to help protect yourself and follow the law. Once you've made sure everyone is safe, you'll likely want to call the police and file a report, record details about the accident and exchange information with the other drivers involved. Following these steps can help you be better prepared when filing a car insurance claim.
How do insurance companies determine fault?
How an insurance company determines fault depends on state laws and the details of the accident.
State laws: Negligence
At-fault vs. no-fault state laws affect how auto insurance claims are paid out. In addition, how state laws define negligence affects how fault is determined and how claims are paid out.
Many times, a car accident may not be solely one driver's fault. An insurer may assign a percentage of blame to each party involved in the accident, based on the details of the accident.
For example, say a speeding driver rear-ends your car after you suddenly changed lanes. It may be determined that both of you are partially at fault for the accident. The other driver may be found 60 percent responsible and you may be 40 percent responsible.
The degree to which you're found negligent affects how you recoup your claim settlement after a car accident. And each state's laws vary when it comes to negligence.
Here are some terms you may encounter during a third-party car insurance claim, depending on where you live:
If your state uses pure comparative negligence, you may recoup accident-related expenses from the other driver based on their degree of responsibility for an accident.
For example, if the other driver is 60 percent at fault, their insurance company may pay up to 60 percent of your medical expenses and repair bills. You (or your insurance) would pay the remaining 40 percent.
The states that use pure comparative negligence are:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
Modified comparative negligence
If your state uses modified comparative negligence, you may not recoup expenses from the other driver if you're more than 50 or 51 percent at fault for an accident.
In those states, you would have to pay for your own medical expenses or repair bills, even if the other driver was partially at fault.
The states that use modified comparative negligence are:
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Contributory negligence (Or pure negligence)
If your state uses contributory negligence, you may not recoup expenses if you bear any responsibility for an accident.
For instance, even if you were only 5 percent responsible for the accident, you would not get paid from the other party's insurance.
The states that use contributory negligence are:
- District of Columbia
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
Remember that recouping your costs after an accident depends on state laws and the car insurance coverage on your and the other driver's policies.
Typically, when you file a claim, an insurance adjuster is assigned to your claim. The adjuster will gather details about the accident. This may include reviewing the police report, interviewing involved parties and assessing photos of damage. Based on their review, the adjuster works with the insurer to determine who's at fault for the accident.
Your car accident claim may be paid by your own insurer or by the other party's insurer, depending on who is at fault. Your insurer may pay part of your claim, based on the coverage you have on your own auto insurance policy. Or you may get a claim payment from the other driver's insurer.