Perhaps the most confusing thing for any driver after a car accident is how fault is determined. Although some situations are obvious even to the drivers involved, often drivers are not sure who is at fault. Fault determination rules are used to ensure that every accident is judged in the same way and against the same rules. This means that every accident that occurs as a result of the same actions by a driver will have the same fault outcome.
Common Accident Scenarios
These common accident scenarios will all have the same outcome based on the fault determination rules. Outside influences such as weather have no bearing on how these rules are applied, so slipping on the ice or poor visibility do not change who is found at fault.
Common Scenario: Lane Change and Merging Accidents
These accidents happen in a variety of ways including when someone changes lanes and misjudges the space, striking another car, when a driver enters a roadway from a yield or controlled access ramp and strikes another car, or merges as their lane ends and causes an accident.
Who is At Fault: The driver who is entering a lane of moving traffic and strikes another car is always at fault in these scenarios. If you are travelling forward in your lane and another car enters that lane and strikes your car, you will not carry any fault. This is true regardless of what caused that driver to strike your car.
Common Scenario: Multiple Car Rear-End Collision
An accident in which one car is struck from behind by another as they are all traveling, and that car is pushed into the car in front is a fairly common occurrence, especially in the winter when roads are slick. These accidents can involve three or more cars in a chain reaction. Many drivers believe that if their vehicle was struck, thus causing them to strike another vehicle, that they hold no fault.
Who Is At Fault: In this scenario, the majority of the fault falls on the first driver who started the domino effect of the accident. However, every other driver who struck the car in front of them will also hold some fault in the accident. In a three-car pileup where all three vehicles were in motion at the time of the accident, the driver at the rear may be held 100% at fault by his or her insurance company. In the second collision, the car that struck the lead car may hold 50% of the fault. There are two separate fault determinations made, for the two collisions. It’s important to note that if the two front cars are stopped at the time of impact, only the rear car will face fault. In all cases the car at the front of the line has no fault in the accident.
Common Scenario: The Sideswipe
A sideswipe can happen in a wide variety of ways, which is why it is one of those accidents for which people have a lot of confusion when it comes to fault determination. If you sideswipe another vehicle, fault is determined by where the vehicles were and how they were travelling in relation to the painted lines on the road.
Who Is At Fault: Any time you sideswipe a car that is legally parked, you are at fault. If you cross a center line or a lane-division line and sideswipe another car travelling legally within their lane, you are at fault. If two cars sideswipe each other when both have crossed the painted line, they will share the fault in the accident.
One of the simplest ways to understand fault determination is to consider what rules or regulations may have been broken that were a cause of the accident occurring. When someone fails to properly check before changing lanes or merging, or is following too close and thus rear-ends another car, or drifts over the center line, that person has made an error in judgment and driving ability that resulted in an accident; that person is thus at fault. This logic applies to most accidents. It’s also important to remember that fault can be shared – it’s not always a cut and dried 100% to 0% situation.
Car Accidents and Insurance
Car accidents stay on your driving record for six years. If found at-fault for a car accident, you may experience higher insurance rates for the six years; however, it doesn't mean that you can't save money on your insurance. Each insurance company charges different rates; so be sure get car insurance quotes to compare.