If you are involved in a car accident, you will need to determine who was at fault for causing the collision. The determination of liability has a profound impact on both you and the other driver because the liable party’s insurance will have to cover the other party’s damages from the accident. The at-fault driver may also face criminal penalties or fines. An experienced attorney can help you with the difficult task of proving liability in a car accident and protect your rights after a collision. An attorney can also help hold the other driver accountable for his or her actions.
Proving Liability in a Car Accident
In order to prove that a driver was at fault in your motor vehicle accident, you will first need to prove that the other driver was negligent – the other driver owed you a duty of care and breached that duty. For example, every driver owes other drivers on a public road a duty to exercise the highest degree of care to avoid causing injury to others or damage to property.
After proving the other driver breached a duty owed, you must also show that the other driver caused the accident and that you suffered harm as a result. An attorney can research your case and help you establish that the other party did not act as a responsible person would in a similar situation. But proving liability in a car accident can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you gather important evidence that will help you win your case.
Memories fade. Immediately following the accident, make sure you are out of danger and then call the police. As soon as possible, begin documenting every detail of the collision. Request the contact information of all parties and witnesses involved, and write down (or photograph) the other driver’s insurance card and license plate number as well.
If you are able to take photographs of the cars involved in your accident immediately afterward, do so. Most phones include cameras these days, making this incredibly convenient. You should also take photos of any skid marks, the overall scene, and your injuries (if visible). Remember to take photographs from a position of safety.
Finally, write down all other relevant details, including the following:
- A detailed description of your injuries
- A detailed description of the damage done to your vehicle
- A detailed description of the damage done to the other vehicle
- The date and time
- The weather conditions
If you don’t have paper and a writing instrument handy, you can always take notes on your phone. You could also leave yourself a voicemail message.
Know the Traffic Laws
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the traffic laws of your city, county, and state. You can find these laws online on state and local government websites or at your public library. The traffic laws that apply to your particular accident may have an impact on a finding of liability. For example, a local ordinance or a state statute might specify the number of feet one car must maintain between it and the vehicle in front of it. If you were rear-ended in an accident and you can prove that the driver was following too close, you may be able to clearly demonstrate the other driver’s fault. This may place you in a better negotiating position with the insurance company or make it more likely that you will win if you end up going to trial.
If you are in an accident, it is important that you call the police and report the collision immediately. Not only is this required by law, but it may also help you prove the liability to the insurance company. When an officer responds to your accident scene, he or she will make a report. Request a copy of that report or have your attorney obtain the report for you.
The police officer may make statements regarding which driver he or she believes to be at fault, and the report may contain objective evidence, such as the length of skid marks and observations about the positions of the cars, the traffic lights, and other relevant information. The report may also include evidence about whether or not the other driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The information that is contained in the police report might help you with proving liability in a car accident, so be sure to obtain a copy of it and review it with your attorney.
Sometimes law enforcement will ask about injuries before dispatching an officer. Always ask the dispatcher to send an officer unless you are absolutely certain that no one was injured. If law enforcement is not dispatched to the scene, go to your nearest police station and fill out a crash report as soon as possible. This will be important evidence as you work on a proving liability in a car accident.
Accident Investigation and Reconstruction
When liability is disputed, expert accident reconstructionists and investigators can create detailed reports following an accident that make a big difference in your ability to prove liability. Investigators may interview the other parties involved as well as witnesses to the incident. They will take photographs to document the scene and the damage done to the cars.
An accident reconstruction expert will likely take measurements and then use physics and other objective measurements to prove what happened. The expert may be able to determine the relative speeds of the vehicles, the angle at which the collision happened, and other relevant data by accessing the cars’ computers. Information from investigators and reports from accident reconstruction experts can go a long way in convincing an insurance company that it should settle instead of engaging in further litigation.
What to Do and Say After an Accident
Take care of yourself.
In addition to legal liability, injury victims have to prove medical causation, or that the collision caused or contributed to the cause of the injuries. Some people who are involved in automobile accidents take certain actions (or neglect to take certain actions) that make it much more difficult for them to recover damages. For example, do not tell a responding officer or the other driver that you don’t think that you were injured. Some injuries do not show symptoms for hours or days after an accident happens. Always obtain a medical examination to check for injuries following an accident. If you do not get medical treatment or wait to do so, you will have a hard time proving that your injuries were caused by the accident. If the police officer asks if you were hurt, you may be in shock and feel uncertain. In this situation, it’s best to simply tell him or her that you are not sure and that you want to get a professional medical evaluation.
Exercise caution with insurance companies.
When dealing with an insurance company, you are not on a level playing field; you are dealing with professionals who are paid by the insurance company. Despite what their commercials say, the insurance company is not on your side, you aren’t in good hands with them, and they won’t be there for you. In most cases, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will use everything they can against you to pay you as little as possible or deny your claim altogether. While they want you to think that the information you give them will help you resolve your claim, oftentimes they are gathering information to use against you. Proving liability in a car accident can be more difficult if you accidentally say something you shouldn’t to the insurance company.
Talk to an attorney ASAP.
So what can you do to protect your rights? Contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Don’t sign anything, and do not give recorded statements. Insurance companies commonly try to get recorded statements from accident victims that they then use against the victims. When an insurance adjuster calls, don’t be afraid to tell them you cannot talk at that time or that you wish to consult with an attorney before signing anything or talking to their adjuster.
Proving liability in a car accident can be complicated. If you or someone you love has been injured in a collision, you don’t have to face the fight for fair compensation alone. Contact the Law Offices of Bryan Musgrave, and schedule a free initial consultation to explore your options. We can help you determine the best course of action so that you can obtain the maximum compensation you deserve and the best outcome for your claim.