How to Tell Who is At Fault in a Motor Vehicle Crash
Learn How the Police, Insurance Companies, and Courts Determine Fault in a Car Accident in Virginia
In Virginia you must prove that someone else was responsible for your injuries and damages to receive compensation in your personal injury claim. This includes injury claims based on motor vehicle accidents.
Determining who is at fault for a car accident is about determining who made the mistake or who was negligent. In some car accident cases it is easy to tell who acted negligently and is therefore responsible for the injuries and property damage that may have occurred. But in other cases it can be difficult to tell who caused the car crash.
This article discusses how three different entities – the police, insurance companies, and courts – investigate car wrecks and determine who was at fault. If you have questions about your case or are looking for a personal injury attorney who can help you receive fair compensation for your injuries, call or e-mail Richmond car accident lawyer Corey Pollard for a free consultation. We’re located on Main Street in downtown Richmond, but represent accident victims throughout Virginia.
How Do the Police Determine Fault in Car Accidents in Virginia
We recommend that you call the police if you are involved in an auto accident, even if you think the property damage is minor and that you have no injuries. Though police don’t always come to the accident scene, if they do they will complete a police report that can be a valuable asset in your pursuit of justice.
A police report contains the written recollections and opinions of the officer that investigated your accident. These reports may contain evidence about liability, such as whether one car was speeding or following too closely.
After arriving at the scene, the police officer will interview the drivers and passengers. If there are any witnesses the police officer will ask them questions. The police officer may also view any photographs or video footage taken by the drivers or witnesses.
The police officer’s goal is to get enough information to complete the report. Once the investigation is complete the officer will file the report with their department. Make sure you get a copy.
Many police reports do not make a determination of fault. And even if your accident report does contain such a determination, this does not mean that the other driver will be held legally responsible for your injuries automatically.
In addition to completing the police report the officer may issue one or more traffic citations, also called traffic tickets. A traffic citation is a written notice issued by law enforcement that accuses the driver of violating a traffic law. Common citations involve speeding, running a stoplight or stop sign, making an unlawful turn, or following too closely. If the driver is found guilty of the accusation then he or she may have to pay a fine. A reduction of points may also be assessed against the driver.
Though a traffic citation is not automatic proof that the other driver was negligent and therefore responsible for your injuries after a car accident, you can use the traffic citation as evidence in your case. A finding of guilt is even stronger proof of liability and can help you negotiate a car accident settlement.
Amending a Police Report if You Think It is Wrong
You may disagree with the police officer’s findings regarding the car accident. If so you can contact the police department and ask about the procedure to file an appeal. Convincing a police officer to change his or her mind about a factual determination can be difficult. But it’s possible, especially if you have additional witness statements, photographs, or video footage that was not available during the initial investigation.
How Insurance Companies Determine Who Is Responsible for the Car Accident
One of the first things you’ll do after your car accident is file a claim with both your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company. This is different from filing a lawsuit, as we discussed in our article Insurance Claim vs. Personal Injury Lawsuit.
After you file a claim the insurance company will assign it to a claims adjustor. The adjustor will review the police report, contact witnesses, examine property damage to your vehicle, review your policy and the policy of its insured, and evaluate your medical reports. The adjustor will decide who he or she believes is at fault and whether any defenses, such as contributory negligence, may apply to your claim. Usually the adjustor uses the legal definition of negligence to determine who is at fault. A driver is negligent when he or she fails to exercise the amount of caution a reasonable person would have in the same situation.
After the adjustor completes the investigation he or she may make a settlement offer. Read our article on things the adjuster doesn’t want you to know after an auto accident so that you can be prepared for these discussions.
If you are represented, your attorney will then negotiate with adjustor to try to obtain a favorable car accident settlement.
How the Judge or Jury Determines Who is at Fault in a Car Accident in Virginia
If the insurance company refuses to make a fair settlement offer then your attorney will file a personal injury lawsuit seeking to recover money for your injuries and damage. For more information on this process read “Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline in Virginia.”
The court’s job is to determine who was at fault. This is done by determining whether the defendant was negligent. The court will make its decision after considering arguments from both parties’ lawyers, as well as the evidence presented in court. This evidence may include testimony from the drivers and passengers involved in the car accident, people who witnessed the accident, the police officers who arrived at the scene of the accident and investigated, and expert witnesses such as medical providers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and accident reconstruction experts. It may also involve presentation of any traffic citations issued to the other driver.
Either a judge or jury will determine whether the other driver acted negligently and must pay you money to compensate you for your personal injuries and other losses. The judge or jury will also determine the amount you receive, though the amount of insurance coverage and available assets may limit the amount of money you actually pocket.
Police reports and insurance company determinations do not determine whether you win your personal injury lawsuit. In fact, some of the evidence may be excluded because of the rules of evidence. Further, your case may involve specific statutory provisions that affect the legal determination of who is responsible for the car accident. This is why it’s important to choose an experienced auto accident lawyer in Virginia to handle your trial.
Where to Get Help after a Virginia Car Accident
A car accident is a traumatic experience. While trying to regain your health you must also deal with the police, insurance companies, and civil litigation.
You don’t have to do it alone. If you have been injured in a car accident and want to know your legal rights, we can help. Call or e-mail Corey Pollard today for a free consultation.