We are often asked how fault in a car accident is determined. This question usually arises after a police officer or insurance company determines that our client was at fault, and our client disagrees with that finding.
The good news is that it is not up to the police officer or the insurance company to determine who is at fault. That ultimate decision is made only by the trier of fact, whether it is a judge, a jury, or in some cases an arbitrator. Furthermore, that decision is only made after you have had a chance to explain the full version of the events.
While the police officer and the insurance company are not the final decision makers, it is important to note that the “facts” contained in the police report are often critical to establishing fault. The conclusion or “opinion” drawn by the officer isn’t necessarily relevant, but the police officer’s observations of the facts are important. If you disagree with the facts as stated in the report, then assembling witnesses, pictures, and even accident reconstruction experts can be critical to a successful case.
The terms “fault” and “liability” are often used interchangeably; however they are not always correctly used in place of each other. It is entirely possibly that a person could be partially at fault, but yet the other person is liable. California is what is known as a comparative fault state. Essentially, in a comparative fault state, you are always entitled to damages caused by another party, however the amount you are entitled to may be reduced by a percentage equal to your share of the fault.
You have the right to have fault decided after presenting your evidence by a neutral trier of fact such as a judge, jury or arbitrator. Consequently, just because the police officer or insurance company has found you at fault does not close the door on your case. If you have questions about who is at fault in an injury accident, please give one of our personal injury attorneys a call for a free consultation.