If you want to make a claim for a motor vehicle accident, it is vital to establish who is at fault in an accident. This is because many insurance policies offer limited coverage for the at-fault driver. Thus, determining fault is the first step in securing the compensation you deserve. This article focuses on determining fault in a car accident.
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What does at fault mean?
Determining who is at fault means determining the person who caused the car accident. This will generally involve determining whether one or more drivers has broken the law or departed from accepted behaviour whilst driving on the road.
What counts as at fault accident?
Some common examples of an ‘at fault’ accident are:
- One driver is stationary (for example, waiting for a traffic light to turn green or at a stop sign) when another vehicle collides with the first driver from behind, causing a rear-end collision. In this example, the driver of the stationary vehicle has done nothing wrong, and the other driver would be at fault.
- One car is going around a roundabout. A vehicle to the left of that vehicle fails to give way, enters the roundabout and collides with the first vehicle. In this example, the accident happened because the first driver could not give way and caused the accident.
- A police car signals a car to stop, but the vehicle driver does not stop and drives away at high speed. In its attempt to escape the Police, the vehicle driver does not stop at red traffic lights and collides with traffic facing a green traffic signal. In this case, the driver seeking to escape the Police had disobeyed the law in several ways and committed a serious offence. He would generally be found to be at fault.
Who is to blame for car accidents?
In many car accidents, it is clear who is at fault. Probably the most common claim occurs when a vehicle does not drive at a safe distance behind another car, and the vehicle in front is rear-ended by the car behind.
Some motor vehicle accidents are more difficult to determine fault. The following factors may be considered in determining who is at fault:
- Whether one or more drivers has been drink driving;
- Whether the drivers drove with reasonable care;
- The prevailing weather conditions;
- Evidence from independent witnesses;
- Whether the accident only involved two cars or three or more cars;
- Traffic conditions generally;
Determining fault can be difficult, and it is common for insurance companies, including third party motor vehicle insurers, like the Insurance Commission of Western Australia, to engage investigation companies to look into the circumstances of the accident.
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Is someone always at fault in a car accident?
No. There are scenarios where nobody is at fault. For example, suddenly and without warning, a Kangaroo enters the road, and the driver does not have time to stop. It will be challenging to prove that the driver was at fault.
Another scenario where nobody is at fault is a sudden and unexpected mechanical malfunction. For example, the brakes on a car are not working when the driver of that vehicle presses the brake. In this situation, the driver who takes reasonable care of their vehicles is likely to be found not to be at fault.
A further scenario where nobody may be at fault is a sudden and unexpected physical occurrence, such as a heart attack or epileptic fit, which causes a driver to lose control of their car, resulting in a motor vehicle accident.
Are you always at fault if you hit a car from behind?
No. A person is not always at fault when they hit a person from behind. Most of the time, you will be at fault when you rear-ended another driver, but there are circumstances where you will not be at fault. For example, if the vehicle in front suddenly stops, resulting in a rear-end collision, then the car in front may well be partially or totally at fault.
There is also case law where one of the people involved has a parked car on a highway. A person comes along, rear-ending that car. In those cases, the person who parked his car on the highway had at least some liability for the damage caused as the person who parked his car on the highway has failed to consider the effect on oncoming traffic.
Who determines who is at fault in a car accident?
After a claim is made, the insurer will generally determine who is at fault. They often engage investigators to investigate and provide them with a report that helps make the decision.
If you are not satisfied with an insurer’s liability decision, then an insured person or other party involved in the car accident may choose to commence court proceedings.
It is relatively common for the Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA), as the third party motor injury insurer in Western Australia, to decide that a person making a claim is partially or totally at fault. However, Foyle Legal, as a compensation law firm, usually helps injured people commence legal proceedings and challenge such decisions in the District Court of Western Australia.
If you wish to challenge a decision by an insurer, you must have good evidence to support your claims, such as witness statements or photographs, and you can refer to the road rules (such as the Road Traffic Code 2000) in support of the proposition that liability should be resolved in your favour.
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How do you determine who is at fault in a car accident?
This is relatively simple in a civil property damage case or a civil personal injury case. The guiding principles are whether people have done the wrong thing or whether one or more people have disobeyed the law.
Generally, after a car accident, the people involved in the car accident exchange details such as their vehicle registration, phone number and address. If the claim is a damage claim, and you are insured, you should make a claim with your insurer. If the claim is a personal injury claim, you should complete a police report and then make a claim with the Insurance Commission of Western Australia if the other person involved had Western Australian registration plates.
An insurance company dealing with motor vehicle accidents will then investigate the circumstances of the accident and determine fault.
How does an insurance company decide who was at fault?
The insurance company will usually try to gather evidence such as your statement, photographs and repair records to determine whether they have liability to pay under an insurance policy.
If the insurance company considers another person to be at fault, they will usually communicate with them (by letter) and state their view that a person is at fault.
If you disagree with the insurance company, you should seek legal advice before responding. Foyle Legal provides an obligation free consultation for a free case review regarding car crash cases.
How do insurance companies determine who’s at fault?
Insurance companies gather information from various sources to determine who is at fault. This is likely to include the drivers of both vehicles involved to decide whether or not they are of the same view as to how the car crash happened. If the situation is more complicated, the insurer will most likely engage an investigator from their panel to determine liability.
Can fault be determined by car accident damage?
Car accident damage can help with the determination of fault. It is often used to determine fault when the drivers 0f the cars involved say that the accident happened differently. The Insurer will look at repair records and photographs of the damage to determine which driver is providing the correct version of events.
Can vehicle damage prove who was at fault?
Vehicle damage can help prove who was at fault in a car crash. However, in some car accident personal injury cases, there is a big contest about who is providing the correct version of events regarding the accident.
It is relatively common for the parties to legal proceedings to call expert evidence to give evidence whether a person’s evidence regarding the circumstances of the accident should be preferred by the court.
What happens if you are at fault in a car accident?
Car Insurance Claim
If you are at fault in a car accident, then the primary position is that you need to pay for the loss and damage caused to other people by the accident, and you have to bear the cost of your own losses.
If you have third party damage insurance, they will pay for the cost of the damage to the other car but not the damage to your vehicle. If you have fully comprehensive damage insurance, the insurer will pay the repair cost of both cars. Any insurance may be subject to an excess.
Personal Injury Claim
If the claim is a personal injury claim, the Insurance Commission of Western Australia will usually pay the not at fault person damages arising from the car accident. You pay for this third party motor vehicle insurance as part of your vehicle registration. If you breach the terms of this policy (for example, you are drunk driving at the time of the accident), the Insurance Commission may pay out the not at fault person and then pursue you for the amount they have paid.
Personal injury law can be complicated. Foyle Legal carries on business as a motor vehicle compensation lawyer and helps injured people on a no-win, no-fee basis. At Foyle Legal, your first attendance is obligation free. We have helped thousands of Western Australians with their personal injury claims, and we would be happy to meet with you.