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What Happens When You are At Fault for a Car Accident?

By Stewart J. Guss on June 27th, 2019 Car Accident Attorney nervous woman infront of car

When someone else caused your car accident, you have the right to seek compensation for your medical bills, property damage, and other losses from the insurance company of the at-fault driver. However, what happens if you were the one who caused the crash? Whether you were looking at your cell phone, speeding, or simply failed to yield as you were supposed to, the situation can be concerning. Fortunately, there still may be help for you when it comes to recovering for your losses.

You may think that car accident lawyers only help people who are innocent victims of car accidents. However, there are many ways an attorney can assist you even if you think you caused the accident. It is always worth it to discuss the situation with a law firm that regularly handles all types of traffic accident cases.

What to Do After You Think You Caused a Car Crash

If you think (or know) that you just caused a car accident, you should always stay calm. There are steps you should do after a crash whether or not you were at fault, and you should stay focused to ensure you do—and don’t do—certain things.

First, never under any circumstances should you leave the scene of the accident. Every state has specific laws about stopping after a crash and remaining at the scene. If a driver knows they broke the law or may be subject to other citations or criminal charges, they may be tempted to drive away to avoid the consequences of their actions. However, if you leave the scene of the crash, you could face an arrest and serious criminal charges, in addition to your responsibility for the accident. It is ALWAYS better to stop in accordance with the law.

In some states, you may also need to render aid to anyone who needs it or call for help. You should at least exchange your contact and insurance information with the other driver or drivers involved. If there is a certain amount of property damage or if someone suffered injuries in the accident, you likely have to report it to the authorities. It’s a good idea to call 911 or the police directly so someone can respond to the scene of the accident.

While you wait for the police, keep to yourself as much as possible. In some situations, the other driver may try to confront you or may show anger for the crash. Do your best to stay grounded and don’t admit fault or apologize. It can be all too easy to start saying that you’re sorry for being distracted or not noticing the other car. This is a mistake, as you should never admit any negligent acts to the other driver. Even if you’re feeling nervous, you should avoid the following:

  • Discussing what you were doing prior to the crash
  • Talking about who you think was to blame
  • Apologizing or making any statements that may indicate you were at fault
  • Asking the other driver questions to try to determine whether they made a mistake as well

You should stay polite but keep communications to a minimum and simply determine whether anyone is hurt and provide the basic information the driver needs from you. Then wait calmly until medical personnel and the police arrive. Even if the other driver is acting aggressive, you should never be aggressive or defensive in return.

When the police arrive, stay courteous and give them a basic statement regarding how the accident happened. While you can say that your car collided with the other car, never add details such as “I was distracted and hit the car.” Still, you should avoid admitting why you think you were at fault.

It’s also important to collect evidence at the scene of the accident if you are in good physical condition to do so. In some cases, there may be evidence that you shared the blame with the other driver, which can be extremely valuable. Consider doing the following:

  • Collect names and contact information for everyone involved in the accident
  • Collect names and contact information for any witnesses and ask if anyone captured the crash on their phone
  • See if there are any cameras around that may have gotten footage of the accident
  • Use your smartphone to take pictures of the scene, including all vehicles and damage, debris, road conditions, and other environmental factors

As soon as you can, you should seek medical care if you have any injuries. It is important to ensure you get the treatment you need to minimize the complications and recovery time of your injuries.

After your injuries are stable, it’s important to notify your insurance company about what happened. This is not always a pleasant call to make, but it is a necessary one. Don’t make any official statements about how the accident happened, but do let them know that an accident occurred.

Then, you should contact an experienced car accident lawyer. If a crash was your fault, why would need a lawyer? Many people ask this question because they don’t know how a lawyer can help them if they were to blame. However, you would be surprised at the many benefits of having a lawyer evaluate your situation and your options.

What if You Were Only Partially at Fault?

One reason you should always discuss your accident with a lawyer is that they can advise you whether you might still have a chance at financial recovery. A law firm can conduct a professional investigation and review all relevant evidence to determine whether you can prove the other driver was also partially liable.

Whether a partially liable driver can still seek recovery will depend on your state’s particular laws, and a lawyer from your jurisdiction can advise you of how your state treats this situation. The following is a brief overview of various state laws applicable to this situation.

Pure Contributory Negligence – States that follow this rule bar someone from recovering any compensation if they were even one percent at fault for the crash. This means that if both parties contributed to a car accident in any way, neither party can recover from the other. States that follow this rule include:

  • Alabama
  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia

Pure Comparative Fault – Under these laws, you can seek recovery for partial losses even if you were 99 percent at fault. Parties who were partially at fault always have the opportunity to file a claim as long as they were not 100 percent responsible. Pure comparative fault states include the following:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

Modified Comparative Fault – This is a rule that allows partially liable parties to seek compensation for their losses, but only if they are LESS at fault than the other party. Some states prohibit recovery if someone is 50 percent liable while others set the limit at 51 percent. Most states use some type of modified comparative fault, including:

  • Arkansas (50 percent)
  • Colorado (50 percent)
  • Connecticut (51 percent)
  • Delaware (51 percent)
  • Georgia (50 percent)
  • Hawaii (51 percent)
  • Idaho (50 percent)
  • Illinois (51 percent)
  • Indiana (51 percent)
  • Iowa (51 percent)
  • Kansas (50 percent)
  • Maine (50 percent)
  • Massachusetts (51 percent)
  • Michigan (51 percent)
  • Minnesota (51 percent)
  • Montana (51 percent)
  • Nebraska (50 percent)
  • New Hampshire (51 percent)
  • New Jersey (51 percent)
  • North Dakota (50 percent)
  • Ohio (51 percent)
  • Oklahoma (51 percent)
  • Oregon (51 percent)
  • Pennsylvania (51 percent)
  • South Carolina (51 percent)
  • Tennessee (50 percent)
  • Texas (51 percent)
  • Utah (50 percent)
  • Vermont (51 percent)
  • West Virginia (51 percent)
  • Wisconsin (51 percent)
  • Wyoming (51 percent)

If you live in a pure or modified comparative fault state, you may be able to take legal action. The fact that you also contributed to the accident will reduce your recovery by your percentage of fault. For instance, if you were 40 percent at fault and incurred $10,000 in losses, you can recover $6,000. The insurance company or jury determines the percentage of fault to assign to each driver.

These proportionate liability laws are highly important, as they help drivers who may have acted negligently but also deserve to recover financially after a crash. A lawyer can explain whether this situation applies to you and can help you take the next steps toward recovery.

Your Insurance Coverage

After you caused a car accident, it is important to understand your insurance options. Again, your options will depend on the state in which you live or where the accident happened.

No-Fault States

There are a handful of states that have no-fault auto insurance laws. This means that every driver has their own car insurance, and you will make a claim with your own insurance company whether or not you were at fault. No-fault coverage should provide benefits for your medical bills and lost wages whether you were 100 percent or zero percent liable for the crash.

Fault-based States

In a fault-based state, you will file an insurance claim with the company that covers the at-fault driver. That driver’s policy should provide benefits for an accident victim’s medical costs and other losses. If the company alleges you were partially to blame, they will certainly use that as a justification to reduce a settlement offer for you, though you may still be able to recover for some of your losses.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance

PIP insurance is no-fault coverage required in no-fault states. However, many fault-based states, such as Texas, also require insurance companies to offer PIP coverage for drivers. In fact, if a driver refuses to purchase this coverage, they must do so in writing.

If you are 100 percent at fault for a crash (or more than 51 percent in a modified comparative fault state), your PIP insurance can provide valuable assistance. This coverage will not take your fault into account, and you can seek benefits to pay for medical treatment and reimburse you for lost wages up to your policy limits.

Supplemental Insurance

Other types of supplemental coverage can also come in handy in this situation. These can include emergency coverage such as the policies offered by Aflac and similar companies. You may also have purchased medical payments coverage, known as MedPay. This can help you pay copays and other out-of-pocket expenses for your medical treatment.

Even if you are filing a claim with your own insurance company, it is wise to have the help of a skilled car accident attorney. Insurance companies are notoriously difficult, even when it comes to helping their own policyholders. Just because you pay your premiums does not mean your insurer will automatically hand over payment when you request it, even if your policy covers your claim. You can face the same challenges you would face when filing a claim against another driver’s policy, and you should have the same quality legal representation in this situation.

Any type of car accident scenario can be stressful and can leave you shaken up. The situation can be even more worrisome if you believe you were at fault for the crash. It is important to get the legal support you need and make sure you learn about your rights and possible opportunities for financial recovery.

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