Car Accident FAQ: How can you tell who is at fault in an accident?

By Michael GrossmanSeptember 23, 2015Reading Time: 3 minutes

After a car accident, the process of determining who is at fault will begin, and, as a victim, you have a lot to lose if a concrete determination of fault cannot be made. Unfortunately, all car accidents are unique and different, thus leaving a large gray area of interpretation on who is to blame and who should pay.

In an ideal world, the car insurance companies would work like they say they do on TV where a lady claims this quacking duck's company accepted responsibility and paid up. Unfortunately, this isn't a Utopian society, and insurance companies don't work that way at all. For car accident victims to receive compensation under the law of almost every state, the victim has to prove all accusations they make against the person who injured them. The insurance companies will only pay out on an "at fault" basis. Therefore, the individual who is at fault for the accident will need to be determined and proven.

How do you determine fault you may ask? The answer is evidence.

What is "Totality of Evidence" and how does it affect you?

Evidence is needed to determine which party is mostly at fault after an accident, and the more evidence in your favor, the better. Let's use the OJ Simpson trial as an example of how important evidence can be. During his trial, the prosecutor did a pretty good job of presenting evidence which illustrated that Simpson was indeed guilty of murdering two people. However, the jury still found him innocent because they felt the evidence presented did not meet the burden of proof needed to convict him of murder. Or to phrase it another way, though some of the evidence showed he was guilty, the totality of evidence did not show his guilt.

What is the take away from this? Some evidence isn't good enough. You need a lot of evidence to win a case.

Police reports are good, but they are not your silver bullet evidence.

A huge misconception surrounding car accidents is that police reports alone are sufficient evidence to prove who is at fault. This is simply not the case. Essentially, police reports are merely an officer's documented opinion of what happened in an accident, and that is all they are, an opinion. Further, police reports are largely used by the government for statistical purposes and were never intended to be used as evidence in car accident cases. So, using police reports as your main piece of evidence is a bad strategy because that's not how police reports were ever intended to be used.

But there's actually an even better argument against police reports. What if a report puts you at fault? If you know that you weren't at fault, would you just say to yourself, "Well, that cop says I', at fault, so it must be true?" Of course not. Police officers are humans and they make mistakes. Just the same way that you might feel that an officer erred in saying you were at fault, so too may the person who caused your accident. Consequently, they are allowed to attempt to discredit the police report at trial. So relying on a police report is a bad strategy for the simple fact that their accuracy can be, and usually is, disputed.

To have the best chance at proving who is at fault in an accident, you really need to have a lot more evidence than a police report. Here is how my firm goes about collecting evidence for cases:

  1. Hire a Private Investigator or Accident Re-constructionist, who go to the scene of the accident and reconstruct what happened by evaluating tire marks, damage to the surrounding area, etc.
  2. Interview as many witnesses as possible
  3. Visit the surrounding business establishments to see if any video surveillance recorded the incident
  4. Collect cell phone records to see if a driver was distracted at the time of the accident
  5. Evaluate electronic data from the car involved in the incident
  6. Review the police report. (See where this falls on the list? I think you get the idea.)

You may be thinking to yourself,"It is really obvious who was at fault in my situation." Unfortunately, the system just isn't set up that way. At the end of the day, cases aren't won based on what you know, but what you can prove.