How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident in New York?

By  //  October 22, 2021

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With more than 6.7 million car accidents taking place every day in the US, it’s likely that you’ll need to know how fault is determined sometime in your driving career. The truth is that the process of determining who is to blame is a complicated process.

There are lots of variables involved, and it may also depend on where you’re located. Here’s an overview on what you should know about fault, how it’s determined, how property damage figures in, and what your next steps might be. 

What is “fault” in an accident? 

Fault is usually the legal term for the party who is determined to be responsible for the accident. For some accidents, it’s easier and more obvious to determine who is the party at fault. Absolute fault depends on which state you live in, so liability can also be partial. But fault could be as simple as determining who failed to stop, causing the other driver to crash into them. 

100% fault: If one driver is determined to be at fault, their insurance company will typically cover the full damages, depending on their level of insurance coverage. 

51% or more fault: The level of fault makes a difference in some states. In some cases, that level of fault means that the insurance company will cover 100% of coverage, while it could mean a varied scale of coverage depending on the percentage of fault. If one driver is 30% at fault, the insurance company would be responsible for that level of damage in the case. 

50% fault: If the fault is not easily determined, the insurance companies may decide to split the fault and culpability for coverage of damages. Not all states allow for shared or determined fault in this way. 

What Are Ways to Determine Fault? 

There are a few different ways to determine fault. In most cases, the level of fault is fairly straightforward and obvious, without any question. But, when there is any question or debate about who is at fault, there are a few different targets they might look at. 

Drivers Involved in the Accident 

Sometimes it’s rather obvious which driver is at fault in a car accident, based on the scene and the statements from witnesses on the scene. One driver might admit fault, or the layout of the accident might make it difficult to draw any different conclusion as to fault and culpability. 

It might be advisable to take pictures of the evidence involved in the car accident. At the very least, involved parties should get insurance details and contact information in the case. Then, each party should take notes about what happened while the accident is still fresh and clear. 

In those cases, there may be a straightforward agreement by the insurance company to cover the damages in the case. But, if there are any questions about the case, the insurance company may investigate further, based on the police report and other evidence. 

Insurance Companies Involved  

The involved insurance companies often determine the party that’s at fault, but that’s not always the case. Other factors may come into play in the fault determination. If there is any question about who is at fault, or if there were mitigating circumstances, the insurance company may not be the final word in the determination of fault and the coverage of benefits in the case. 

Police Report 

A police officer will take reports from all the witnesses, including those involved in the car accident. Then the police officer will determine the most likely person who is at fault, based on the evidence. The police officer may take into account other factors like whether one of the drivers was driving recklessly, under the influence or driving while texting. 

What About When No Clear Fault Can Be Determined? 

The determination of fault will vary depending on the state. Some state laws will allow insurance companies to split the fault damages, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the drivers may enter arbitration to determine fault, or one driver may file a lawsuit to determine fault in a small claims court, so that they can get a clear fault determination for insurance purposes. 

In states like Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, or Washington, DC, any level of determining fault means that the driver will recover no damages from the other driver related to the car accident, but most other states allow a driver to sue for a certain level of fault for damages. 

A degree of fault or culpability may involve something as simple as a momentary lack of attention or focus on a traffic signal. It could be that one of the drivers was not following the rules of the road, or there could have been other mitigating circumstances involved in the case. 

What About No-Fault Laws in New York? 

States like New York require each driver to have personal injury protection coverage (PIP), as well as liability coverage. The PIP coverage helps pay for those injuries to the driver and passengers in their vehicle, while the liability coverage covers the medical and vehicle costs for the damages related to the other vehicle. 

How is Fault Determined for Property Damage? 

Even in a no-fault state like New York, the determination for property damages may still vary. The process for determining fault would be the same, but the driver’s insurance company would cover property damage for the driver, while the opposite would be the case if the other driver is at fault. 

Next Step: Schedule an Appointment  

Since an attorney determines who is at fault in many car accident cases, it’s often advisable to consult with an experienced lawyer. You should know all the facts in the case as well as how fault can relate to a driver’s own responsibility to pay damages via your insurance provider, or other culpability. 

An attorney will be able to recommend whether you should pursue further damages for personal injury or other costs related to the car accident. When there’s a debate or question about who is at fault, a lawyer can come in handy. Reach out to an experienced attorney to find out the best way to proceed in the current case and situation.