Who Decides Fault After An Auto Accident?
How Fault Is Determined
To determine which party is liable for the damages incurred, an accident reconstructionist, insurance company claims adjustor and the police will gather and review evidence.
Generally, a police officer will be the first investigator on the scene and will review damage, take testimony of witnesses and speak to both drivers before writing a report.
It is this police report that can support a non-negligent driver’s case if it ever needs to go to court. The report typically will state whether there was evidence to show that one party violated any traffic laws leading to the accident.
Because Arizona is a fault state, any statements made by a driver at the scene may be used against them later in court.
Assigning Portions of Fault to Both Drivers
Arizona has “comparative negligence” laws which means that more than one person can be at fault in an accident.
Under this law, you can collect damages only if your degree of fault does not exceed that of other driver in the accident.
The settlement, however, can be reduced by your percentage of fault.
While you may not have been cited for the accident, the insurance can attribute “fault” to your driving even though the officer did not give you a citation for any traffic law violations.
For example, if the other driver is 80% at fault and you are 20% at fault, you can collect for your damages because you were not more than 50% at fault. However, the other driver’s insurer will only offer to pay for 80% of your damages.
Evidence of Fault
Luckily for a driver who is not at fault for an accident, the words of the other driver are not the only pieces of evidence that are used to determine what happened.
In many cases, there are witnesses to the accident who were either in a separate vehicle close by, or pedestrians who were around the area when the accident occurred.
Testimony from witnesses should be gathered at the accident scene. This will help you determine which light was red and which was green, who had the right-of-way, and the speed of each driver.
Photos of Vehicle Damage
Finally, the damage to each vehicle also tells a story. Pictures of vehicle damage can be used in court to prove that the at-fault driver needs to pay for the damages incurred by the victim.
The police report will often list one or more citations against the driver who violated traffic laws leading to the accident.
However, while traffic citations and convictions under Arizona’ s motor vehicle laws are factors often used to assess liability, neither necessarily means that a driver is 100% responsible for an accident.
The fact that another driver may have been issued a citation or was even convicted of a moving traffic violation, and you were not, does not necessarily mean that some degree of liability still can’t be assessed to you for contributing to the accident.
Were You Unfairly Held At Fault? We Can Review Your Case
You might feel your accident was the fault of the other driver, but the auto insurers say otherwise. If you feel you are being unjustly blamed for the accident, we can review your case and work out a strategy.
Keep in mind that anytime you file a “third party” claim with another insurer, you do not have a contract with that insurer and their primary obligation is to their own policyholder — just as you would expect your company to defend you if a liability claim were brought against your policy.