Car Accident is the term most often used when there is a crash. The word accident implies that it was no one’s fault, but that is usually not true. Determining who was at fault for a car accident becomes especially important under Illinois law, if someone was seriously hurt.
Who Decides Fault Following a Car Accident?
Car Accidents usually happen in a split second. This often makes it difficult for those involved to process what happened. Sometimes, it might be obvious. For instance, if someone admits to not seeing a stop sign or tells you that their foot slipped off of a pedal, that is an admission of fault- assuming that they don’t lie about it later. They may even apologize and tell you at the scene of the accident that it was their fault. Most of the time, deciding fault is not as easy.
The investigating police officer may be able to assist in helping to sort out the matter of fault. They are familiar with the traffic laws and can sometimes put together an accurate picture based upon statements made at the scene from all drivers. Passenger and witness statements can also be considered. The only problem with using police reports to determine fault is that the officers rarely actually see the accident, and they just go by what they are told or what they are able to piece together based on experience. While police officers can obviously write tickets for legal violations that occur on the roadway, they are still not the final decision makers as to fault.
Insurance adjusters who are assigned to a claim may make their own determinations as to fault, based usually upon what their own driver tells them while sometimes considering the statement of the other driver, as long as the various versions don’t really conflict with one another. The reality is that insurance companies train their employees very well and the result is that they will usually side with their own driver, especially if their own insured does not admit to having done anything wrong which caused the accident. This is why speaking to the other person’s insurance company right after an accident can be a landmine and is best done only after you speak to a lawyer of your choosing.
If a claim becomes serious and someone was hurt, if the issue of fault remains disputed, it can be decided by a panel of neutral arbitrators. In Cook County and in the other collar counties surrounding Chicago, most courts have a mandatory arbitration system where personal injury claims below a certain dollar amount are heard by a panel of three neutral lawyers before going to a judge. This is a very good way to get the ‘pulse’ of the case, both in terms of fault and case value. That being said, the results aren’t binding but often are used to help settle disputes more amicably after both parties can see how fault was determined by the panel.
Ultimately, the fault for a car accident might have to be established by a judge or jury, in court. Leaving the decision of fault for an accident up the court system is not uncommon, but is still usually a last resort.
What is Considered when Determining Fault in a Car Accident?
The following factors can all come into play when determining whether someone was at fault for a car accident:
- Statements of all drivers
- Passenger statements
- Witness statements
- Police reports, including diagrams and citations
- Accident Reconstruction Experts, in more serious cases
- Rules of the Road
- Right of Way
- How the Accident Happened
- Common Sense: Whose story is more credible?
- Photographs of the scene
- Weather Conditions
- Mechanical Defects of either car
- Distracted driving
- Location of damage on the vehicles
- Credibility of those who gave statements
- Vehicle Location before and after the accident
- Blood alcohol levels, if impairment is suspected
Why is Fault so Important if both Drivers have Car Insurance?
Like most things, it all comes down to money. Even if both drivers have car insurance, the insurance company for the person who was not to blame will not want to pay. There are some exceptions to this, as is the case where the ‘Med Pay’ portion of an insurance policy is just being used to pay for relatively inexpensive medical treatment. Even when medpay is used, the insurance company will have what are called subrogation rights, where they turn around and go after the at fault driver’s insurance for reimbursement of their money that was paid out to their insureds.
In most instances, however, insurance companies need to establish fault as the first step in the claims process. If an insurance company takes responsibility for the careless actions of their drivers, they will then be able to move on to the next steps of looking into the extent of someone’s injuries which were caused by the accident.
Isn’t the Rear End Driver Always at Fault?
The rear end driver is usually at fault for most rear end accidents, but not always. If a driver is stopped for some time waiting for a light to change to green and is slammed from behind, the driver in back would appear to be the one responsible for causing the accident. However, sometimes the driver in back has a defense, especially if the car in front of them was not completely stopped for a while before the accident. For example, there are many reasons why a car might slam on their brakes suddenly. Perhaps a car slams on their brakes in response to a changing traffic light or because a family of ducks start to cross the road. In those cases, it might be harder for a car behind them to stop. Still, the car behind them might have been following too close. All circumstances should be taken into consideration.
Is Fault for a Car Accident All or Nothing?
No. Sometimes fault for a car accident lies with both drivers. In the State of Illinois, this is important because if you are more than 50% at fault, you cannot recover for your injuries from the other driver. For example, let’s say that an accident was mostly your fault (80%), but the other driver bears 20% responsibility. If you were hurt, the other driver and his or her insurance company are off the hook for their small role in causing the accident. But, if the other driver tries to hold you legally responsible for their injuries, what they can recover from you is reduced by 20%. In most cases, fault will either be assigned to one driver or the other; but it is not unheard of to have percentages assigned and the monetary recovery divided according to that. This is called contributory negligence.
What if I don’t know whose fault the car accident was?
If you were seriously hurt, it is important that fault be determined so that the appropriate party can take financial responsibility if they are the one who caused the accident. It is not your job to decide whose fault the accident was. Your job is to be honest (this is always the best policy) and to make sure that you get appropriate medical treatment if you were hurt.
If the accident wasn’t my fault, is it okay to talk to the other driver’s insurance company?
Many people think that since they have nothing to hide by telling the truth if an accident was not their fault, that they can safely go ahead and talk to the other driver’s insurance company. Not so fast. Insurance adjusters are not your friend and they are highly trained to extract exactly what they want out of a seemingly innocent conversation. Their job is to build a case against you from day one, in order to save the insurance company money. Do not fall into their trap. First, you should talk to a lawyer of your choosing to make sure that your legal rights are being protected as often, no good can come of speaking to the other driver’s insurance adjuster too early on. It is mostly about timing and making sure that you are not being misunderstood.
If you were hurt in a car accident in the State of Illinois, we understand that this can be a scary and confusing time. An insurance company’s interrogation can be highly intimidating and are often not required, at least not initially. We are here to answer your initial questions without any strings attached.