How to Determine Who’s at Fault in a Car Accident

Car accidents are problematic events, especially if you do not involve the police. That is because insurance companies typically want to know who was at fault. The fault may be shared, such as when one driver turns right while another driver coming from the opposite direction turns left on a green arrow and both of you collide in the same lane.

At other times, the fault may be more or less yours, depending on the circumstances of the accident. In some states, there is no such thing as fault in a car accident because they are deemed no-fault accident states. This article discusses how you can determine fault in a car accident in a state where at-fault laws are in effect.

Right of Way

When determining fault in an accident, it helps to determine who had the right of way. For example, a four-way stop with stop signs has a very specific set of rules to follow. The person who reaches the four-way stop first is generally the person that moves first.

If two or more cars reach the four-way at the same time, it is usually the car to your right that moves first, with each car to the right moving next in a counter-clockwise maneuver. When two cars stop that are directly across from each other and no one is turning through the path of the other (i.e., both cars are going straight through the intersection), then both may go at the same time. Accidents usually occur when someone does not make a full stop or turns into the oncoming path of a vehicle that has the right of way. If your accident is caused by a right-of-way issue, the police will determine which driver moved into traffic without the right of way.

Look at Your State’s Laws

Each state has its own traffic laws that differ from neighboring and distant states. Your state’s laws will be a determining factor in who is at fault in the accident. Certain states uphold comparative fault laws that state that the two parties in an accident are assessed based on who has more responsibility for the occurrence of the accident. Comparative fault states have different rules than other states for establishing who pays what after an accident. The person who is more at fault pays the other party more based on the percentage of shared fault left after both parties’ shared percentages of fault cancel each other out.

So, in comparative fault incidences, if a driver is considered 60 percent at fault and the other driver is considered 40 percent at fault, the person with 60 percent fault is required to pay the other driver 20 percent of the losses incurred in the accident. The 40 percent fault on both sides is canceled out, leaving the driver with the higher percentage the person who has to pay. Talk to your insurance company to see if your state is a comparative fault state.

Police Reports

Involving the police after an accident is key in determining fault. The police are able to look at an accident and see things that logistically tell them who is responsible or more responsible for the accident. Their report is a vital piece in helping your insurance company decide what and who to pay in the accident.

Traffic Cameras

If your accident occurs where traffic cameras are posted, this can be a huge benefit to determining fault in an accident. The camera footage may be obtained via the police department by requesting footage that’s dated and time-stamped for your accident. The footage will reveal who made the biggest traffic blunders and who is more at fault (e.g., who ran the red light, who tried to race through the yellow while someone else was turning, who was distracted and on their phones, etc.).


Witnesses at the scene of an accident are also helpful. They might have seen something happen from a different perspective, such as outside the vehicle (e.g., as a pedestrian) or inside their own vehicles. Many cars these days have dash cams. If a witness had a dash cam in their car, it could provide key evidence in your favor. When police are called to the scene, they are likely to stop other drivers and people on the street to ask them what they saw.

Presence of Alcohol or Drugs

All states have laws against driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, it doesn’t necessarily stop people from doing this. If the accident is the result of the other person driving drunk or driving under the influence of drugs, the accident is almost always the impaired driver’s fault.

As you can see, it can be a challenge to determine fault in an accident. However, when you know what tools are used to determine fault in your state, you can use those tools to find out if the other driver owes you anything. What you decide to do then is between you and your insurance company.

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