How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

Car accidents are an unfortunate reality of driving on the roadways in and around our area. According to the latest year of data provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were more than 272,000 total injuries and more than 3,400 total fatalities as a result of car accidents across the state. California operates under a fault-based system when it comes to traffic collisions. This means that any victim who sustains injuries or property damage will pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. In these cases, it is vital that “fault” is correctly determined, but this can be a complicated process.

Gathering Evidence Is Important When Proving Fault

Regardless of whether or not a traffic collision seems straightforward, it is vital that car accident victims obtain as much evidence related to the incident as they can. It may be a good idea to speak to a skilled Santa Ana car accident lawyer who has the resources necessary to help obtain all of the following:

  • Video. If there were any video cameras on homes or businesses near the crash, this evidence would be useful in determining fault. However, you may need assistance from an attorney to get a subpoena for this footage.
  • Photos. Any photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the crash could be helpful to determine liability. In many cases, evidence begins to disappear quickly after a crash occurs, but photographs can help preserve proof of causes of the crash, crash angles, damages, and more.
  • Police reports. In most cases, the police will come to the scene of an accident and complete a preliminary investigation. Most accident reports contain the police officer’s determination of who caused the accident.
  • Eyewitness statements. If there or any eyewitnesses to the crash, their statements could be helpful when proving fault.
  • Driver admittances. There are times when a driver at the scene of a crash admits fault. They may say things such as “I didn’t see you” or they may apologize to other drivers for causing the incident. This should be noted, as admittance is essentially accepting fault.

In most instances, any driver who violated a traffic law will likely be held responsible for causing an accident. For example, if one of the drivers is issued a citation for running a red light, speeding, or driving while impaired by alcohol, they will likely carry the heaviest burden when it comes to fault.

What About Comparative Fault?

Many people wonder what happens if they are partially responsible for an accident in California. Under California’s comparative negligence laws, even those who are partially responsible for an accident can still recover compensation for their losses. However, the amount of money they are awarded will be reduced based on the percentage of fault they had for the incident.

For example, if a plaintiff (the car accident victim) is awarded $10,000 in damages for the incident, but they were found to be 20% at fault, then they would only receive $8,000 in total compensation ($10,000 less the $2,000 that accounted for their percentage of fault).

Due to the comparative negligence laws in California, it is important that as much evidence as possible be obtained in order to prove the liability of the other party. What may seem like a cut and dry case (i.e. a rear-end collision), may not be so clear cut if a negligent driver tries to place some of the blame on the other party.