Fault Determination After an Accident: What You Should Know

Getting into a car accident can be a jarring experience. Even a minor collision can raise your pulse and get your mind racing. Among the many things that may run through your mind is how the accident might impact your auto insurance premium.

While that’s certainly a concern, what the impact may be on your rate, if any, will be largely determined by the degree of fault for the collision. Deciding who is at fault is typically the job of an insurance adjuster who investigates the accident.

What to Do at the Scene of an Accident

If you are involved in an accident it’s important to keep a level head. Do not voluntarily assume liability, take responsibility, or sign any statement regarding who is at fault for the accident while at the scene. Do not pay or promise to pay for damages at the scene of the collision, don’t accept money or discuss any settlement with the other driver(s), and do not agree to forget about the collision.

Instead, focus on recording and documenting the facts. Exchange insurance, car registration, and licence plate information with the other driver. Take photos of the scene and damage to the vehicles and get the names and contact information of witnesses if there are any.

If any of the other drivers involved become aggressive, avoid getting into a confrontation. Keep things civil and tell them you will allow your insurance company to handle the situation.

Call 911 immediately if there are injuries (no matter how minor), if a criminal act may be involved (for example, if a driver appears impaired), or if the collision involves a pedestrian or cyclist. Call the police if damages to the vehicles exceed your province’s threshold. In Ontario and Alberta, the threshold is $2,000 total for the accident not per vehicle.

After calling the police, contact your insurer as soon as possible and give them the details of the collision. You may have difficulty getting your claim processed if you wait too long to contact your insurer or if you withhold any information from them.

While the police will make a report and may issue traffic violations, they do not determine fault of an accident. Be sure to ask the police officer at the scene for a copy of their report or the report’s file number. A police report will be one of the pieces of evidence used in the insurance companies’ investigations of the crash, but it is not the final word.

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How Do Insurance Companies Determine Fault?

After an accident is reported the insurance companies involved will begin their investigation. They will take statements from drivers, passengers and witnesses, and look at photographs of the scene, if available, and the damage caused.

When all of the information has been compiled, the insurance company will make a determination as to how the accident happened and what the cause appears to have been. They will then determine who is at fault based on a set of rules.

In Ontario, it is the fault determination rules in the province’s Insurance Act by which all insurance companies must abide. Each province has a set of fault determination rules that insurers must follow when investigating a collision.

Fault Percentages and Shared Fault

In some cases, an accident may be the result of errors on the part of each of the drivers involved. In these situations, the insurance companies may agree to a shared fault determination. Fault can be determined at 100% for one driver, 50% for each driver, or any other range of percentages.

It’s important to note that even if you live in a no-fault insurance province, someone will still be found at fault in an accident. No-fault insurance means that your insurance company will pay your claim no matter who is found at fault, not that there is no fault at all.

What to Do If You Disagree with a Fault Determination

As part of your insurance policy contract, you have the right to disagree with a fault determination and appeal the decision. Every insurance company has an ombudsman or procedures in place you can use to state your case and offer evidence for why you believe the fault determination is incorrect. If needed, a third-party mediator will be brought in to hear the appeal and make a final decision based on all of the evidence. All parties involved will have to abide by that decision once it is made.

Providing your insurance company with all of the facts from the start, taking pictures at the scene, and giving detailed and accurate statements can help them make the right determination. Although it might not avoid all situations in which an appeal becomes necessary, cooperating with the investigation is the best way to ensure an outcome that is satisfactory to everyone.

Some Insurers Are More Forgiving Than Others

If you’ve been involved in a collision and are found to have been at fault, whether wholly or partially, the accident may impact your insurance rates. Each insurer, however, will rate your collision differently. Some insurers are more forgiving than others which is why it’s prudent to shop around for the best car insurance quotes.