Could you be found at fault in a car accident?

You could, depending on the circumstances. In Tennessee, it matters because a finding of fault means you are legally responsible for the injuries and damages in the wreck to the extent you were at fault.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 6.7 million car crashes reported in 2018, the latest year for which data is available. Those crashes caused about 2.7 million injuries and more than 36,000 deaths.

How is fault determined after a car crash? It’s not always easy or even fair how fault is determined. It’s important to remember that an initial determination of fault does not necessarily carry the day. If you have been in a car accident with injuries or a fatality, it is crucial to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Scenario 1: Admissions of fault

Sometimes, people simply admit they were at fault. This could be accurate or not. A lot of people point fingers at the other driver no matter what happened. Others are inclined to take the blame. Be aware that if you admit fault after an accident, it could be held against you.

The best advice is to say nothing about fault and concentrate on getting any injured people the medical attention they need. Trade insurance information with the other driver and note down the driver’s contact information, along with contacts for any witnesses. Take pictures of the vehicles before they are towed away. Write down the time and location of the accident and the weather conditions. When talking to the police, stick to the facts. Don’t give your opinions or extraneous information.

Scenario 2: Police reports offer an opinion

Police can often tell who was at fault based on the evidence on the scene. However, their opinions can be challenged in arbitration or in court.

The officer will likely examine how the cars were situated after the crash, talk to the drivers and any witnesses, and try to determine if anyone was intoxicated or distracted. He or she will spend some time trying to get a complete picture of what happened.

Scenario 3: Insurance companies decide

The insurance companies representing each driver may make a determination of fault. They often base this on the police report, any photos you send them, other evidence, and the results of an algorithm used to evaluate the damage.

If your insurance company decides you were at fault, they may be required to defend you. If not, you need a lawyer of your own.

Scenario 4: Determination in arbitration

When the drivers and insurance companies disagree on who was at fault, the claim may be taken to arbitration. This is much like court, but with rules of evidence that are somewhat relaxed. Instead of a judge, there is a neutral arbitrator. Unlike in a court case, there is generally no appeal from an arbitrator’s decision. A determination of fault arrived in arbitration is binding.

Scenario 5: Try the case in court

In a court, the jury determines the facts, if there is one, or a judge determines the facts, if there is no jury. Who was at fault in an accident is a question of fact. Each side would present its view of the case to the fact finder and wait for a result.

Fault, and the percentage of fault attributed to each side, is a crucial question after a car wreck. Don’t try to make this determination on your own. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney.

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