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How Fault is Determined by a New York Auto Accident Attorney

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In the United States, nearly 6.75 million motor vehicle accidents occur annually. That is an average of 18,510 car accidents per day, and of those crashes, roughly 24,500 only cause property damage. The remaining accidents result in serious consequences like traumatic brain injury or death.

When a car crash occurs, several parties are involved in assessing the situation, and someone has to know how to tell who is at fault so that car accident victims can pursue compensation for medical bills. Victims in the state will likely need a New York car accident lawyer to help them navigate the process.

How to Tell Who Is at Fault in Car Accident Cases?

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There are five ways to determine fault. First, the drivers involved in the accident can attempt to do so at the scene, but this is typically only a viable option in cases where the damage is minimal and the fault is apparent.

The police can assess the circumstances at the scene and make a report addressing property damage, injuries, and responsibility, and insurance companies then conduct a separate investigation, independent of the police report, once the claim is filed. When insurers do not agree, the next step between insurance companies is often arbitration. However, if you have to go to court, a jury has the final say in fault determination.

How Do the Police Determine Fault?

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Once the police arrive at the scene of a car accident, they assess the situation and create a report with all the details, including pertinent observations, driver information, insurance information, and the crash location. Responding officers have two jobs once they arrive on the scene: to call for medical assistance if someone is hurt and figure out what happened. The police take a few simple steps to get this information:

  • Collect statements from the parties involved in the accident,
  • Interview witnesses,
  • Review the damage done to each vehicle.

Of course, accidents vary in severity, and the police often have to take other steps, such as reviewing security footage, to determine fault. The answer is not always clear.

At-fault drivers sometimes deny their responsibility. Suppose you are involved in an accident with arguable circumstances in the NYC and Westchester areas. In that case, you will likely benefit from contacting a New York auto accident attorney to ensure that you are fairly assessed and compensated. A car accident lawyer in New York understands the nuances and relevant state laws that you may not.

How Do Insurance Companies Determine Fault?

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Ultimately, the police do not have the final say in who is at fault. The insurance companies of each driver will use the police report, photos, medical records, and maps to determine fault. You can quickly file an insurance claim online or over the phone and provide any images you may have taken at the scene. Insurers then use state laws to assess accident details.

Once both drivers have filed claims, the insurers must find fault and seek restitution from the at-fault party’s insurer. This process is called subrogation. For example, if you are in an accident and the other driver is at fault, your insurer will ask the driver’s insurer to reimburse you for all costs relating to the claim. When insurers cannot agree, an arbitrator will often decide. The goal of arbitration is to solve the dispute without the added expenses and loss of time associated with lawsuits. The process is done online and is typically successful.

How Does a Jury Determine Fault?

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A jury can also assess how to tell who is at fault in a car accident. If your case goes to court, a jury makes the final decision. In this case, finding a New York auto accident attorney is significant to ensure that you have professional representation. Once the jury comes to a verdict it can only be changed by an appeal. This process is cumbersome and expensive. Only two percent or less of claims end up in front of a jury. You also have the potential obstacle of “contributory negligence” where you will be assessed for the percentage of any negligence on your part.

What Steps Should You Take in the Event of a Car Accident? 

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You may not know how to tell who is at fault in a car accident, but you can be prepared to protect yourself physically and financially. These five steps can guide you through the immediate aftermath.

1. Determine Whether Anyone Was Injured and Move to a Safe Location

Following an accident, safety takes priority. The first thing you should do is ensure that you and your passengers are safe. Call for medical assistance if someone is injured and try to move out of the road to a secure location, especially in a high traffic area. If the accident is minor, carefully drive your car as well. If you have flares or reflective triangles, place them around the car and leave your hazard lights on. In the event of a more severe accident, leave the vehicle as it is and move yourself to safety.

2. Contact the Police

Contact the police once everyone is in a safe position. In the case of minor accidents, police may not come. Some departments are now using online reporting in place of sending officers to the scene as a means to save time and resources. If you are concerned and have legal questions, contact a car accident lawyer in New York.

If officers arrive on the scene, document their information, including their name and badge number. Request a copy of the report once the officers complete it. If you must report the accident online, you can obtain a copy from the local law enforcement office or the insurance adjuster in charge of your claim.

3. Document Everything

Documentation is essential to your personal injury lawsuit. You can use your phone to take photos of everything, including damages to all vehicles involved and details of the surrounding area. Write down everyone’s information as well. You should not disclose any personal information beyond the name, phone number, address, and insurance policy number.

For more thorough documentation of the scene, you can take a video. You should include surrounding elements, such as road signs and where the vehicles are positioned. All videos and photos from a smartphone are time and location stamped, and in a video, you can voiceover your account of the accident while it is fresh in your mind.

4. Avoid Discussing Responsibility

Adrenaline and emotions can run high after an accident. It may benefit you to refrain from discussing the details of the accident with other parties involved. If anyone is angry, discussing the incident could lead to a verbal disagreement or even a physical altercation, particularly if someone is impaired or appears aggressive. At this point, you may already deem it necessary to contact a New York auto accident attorney to discuss how to tell who is at fault in a car accident. Wait for the police to arrive.

5. Contact Your Insurer

Your insurance card should provide contact information if you need to file a claim. Most companies allow you to file claims from an app on your smartphone. Some may even ask you to use a remote inspection tool as part of the filing process. Depending on your coverage, your insurance may contact a towing company for you and send a rental car if yours is not operational.

What Evidence Is Involved in Determining Fault?

Once the accident scene has been cleared, reports have been filed, and insurance car accident claims have been made, you may be wondering what the police and the insurance companies use to determine which party was at fault. Four main factors influence fault determination. These are especially important in complex cases where contributions of negligence are more challenging to define.

  • Injuries can be documented in more than one way. You may take photographs and provide them to the police and your insurer. You can also see a doctor. Seeking medical treatment after a car accident could result in finding latent injuries. A doctor can note your damages and document how they occurred, which can later serve as evidence.
  • Property Damage is documented in photographs and descriptions. There is often a strong correlation between the damage location and fault. For example, the at-fault driver is typically easy to determine in a rear-end accident or even in a left-hand turn accident depending on points of contact.
  • Forensic Analysis is usually used in more complex cases. For example, if more than one vehicle is involved, officers on the scene may determine that a forensic analyst is needed. Forensic analysts use police reports, medical records, photographs, and witness accounts to produce information, such as the likely speed and path of the vehicles, where and how the crash occurred, and, potentially, who is at fault.
  • Surveillance Footage is not always available, but it can be one of the most substantial sources of evidence when it is. A clear view of the accident helps investigators determine fault quickly.

This is why documentation, when available, is crucial. Redundancies across multiple sources can validate how to tell who is at fault in a car accident. Navigating the nuances of evidence can be difficult, but a New York auto accident attorney could advise.

What Is the Difference Between a No-Fault State and an At-Fault State?

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In the United States, auto insurance laws are regulated at a state level. These laws directly impact how your insurance claim is handled in an accident. The key differences between a no-fault state and an at-fault state are which party pays for damages and whether the person not responsible for the accident is allowed to sue only after they meet a certain level of injury.

At-Fault Insurance Policies

The majority of states have at-fault policies. Under at-fault insurance, the degree of fault determines which insurance company pays for the damages incurred in a car accident. Therefore, the driver that caused the accident is responsible for all damages, and their insurance company has to pay for everything within the bounds of the policy limits.

No-Fault Insurance Policies

The no-fault states include New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, Florida, Minnesota, and Michigan. Under no-fault insurance, medical expenses and damages can be covered by your insurance regardless of who is at fault. Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania allow drivers to choose no-fault or at-fault insurance policies, and the claims process works the same as a traditional at-fault claim.

Schedule a Consultation Today

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Unfortunately, you cannot always trust insurance companies to protect your rights and legal interests. The procedure rules can differ for each state, and how to tell who is at fault in a car accident can sometimes rely heavily on discretion. Accident victims often need to discuss their legal rights and responsibilities with New York car accident lawyers.

An experienced car accident lawyer will be able to corroborate your story by reviewing the facts and reports of your case and helping you find new, relevant evidence. They can assess the damage to your vehicle objectively with the help of opinions from collision and auto repair experts. You often need a different perspective and a professional who will fight to protect your rights.

A car accident is already an overwhelming experience, and dealing with the aftermath of police reports, insurance companies, and potential lawsuits only contributes to the stress. If you need to discuss your car accident case with New York City car accident lawyers, the skilled team at Sattler Law Group advocates for auto accident victims in New Rochelle and NYC and will fight tenaciously to get the compensation you deserve. To schedule a consultation and let us know how we can help, please call (212) 766-4484 or (914) 239-4900 or contact us online.


About The Author

Adam Sattler, ESQ.

Adam Sattler, ESQ.

Adam Sattler, ESQ., is a highly experienced personal injury lawyer in New York and the founder of Sattler Law Group PC. Under his leadership, Sattler Law Group PC is exclusively dedicated to fighting for the rights of injured victims in all types of accident cases, including auto accidents and slip and fall accidents.

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