How is Fault Determined in an Auto Accident?

In some cases, the at-fault driver is pretty clear following an auto accident, but in other cases, it can be more difficult. As a general rule, the driver exhibiting more negligence is at fault. This determination of negligence takes into consideration whether the driver was where he or she was supposed to be, whether the injured person was also careless—and to what degree—whether a defective vehicle part could be to blame, and whether the person deemed negligent was on the job (and under a commercial insurance policy). Following an auto accident, the focus will shift toward determining who caused the accident. If the police issue a citation regarding traffic laws violated, then this may make assigning blame that much easier. Even when the police officer assigns blame to one driver or the other, the insurance company may see it differently. It is definitely beneficial to insurance companies to find at least some level of fault with the other driver, particularly in a pure contributory negligence state like Virginia. It is extremely important that you contact an experienced Virginia auto accident attorney as quickly as possible following your accident so he or she can protect your rights, ensuring you receive fair treatment from insurance companies. 

Did the Other Driver Operate His or Her Vehicle in a Negligent Manner?

Negligence generally boils down to the answer to whether the driver acted in a reasonably prudent manner—in the same way another driver, given the same set of circumstances, would have done. Negligence may be determined when any of the following conduct was engaged in by a driver:
  • Failing to pay attention, or driving while distracted;
  • Exceeding the speed limit, or driving too slowly according to the speed limit and the traffic;
  • Tailgating, or following other vehicles too closely (a primary cause of rear-end auto accidents);
  • Failing to obey traffic lights and traffic signals;
  • Failing to maintain one’s vehicle;
  • Failing to use headlights in darkness or inclement weather, and
  • Failing to look before changing lanes.
This is not an all-inclusive list; however, it does list some of the most common forms of fault that lead to an auto accident.

How Does the State of Virginia Treat the At-Fault Driver?

Virginia operates under pure contributory negligence. There are only four states and the District of Columbia which recognize the pure contributory negligence rule that says a damaged party cannot receive any damages if they are even one percent at fault. Some states operate under the no-fault rule, which refers to medical coverage you are required under state law to carry on your auto insurance. Under no-fault insurance, no matter who is at fault in the accident, your own insurance company must pay a portion of your medical expenses. Certain no-fault states do allow insurance companies to try and recover expenses from the at-fault party, depending on the extent of medical bills.  Only twelve states operate under no-fault, and critics say it fails to penalize irresponsible or careless drivers. The remainder of the states have contributory negligence and comparative negligence rules, which generally reduce the amount of a settlement for the injured person by the percent of blame assigned to him or her.

What are the Consequences of Being Found “At Fault?”

Drivers judged to be entirely at fault in an auto accident will find their insurance rates increase significantly. Some insurance companies will even drop drivers who have had more than one at-fault accident. In some cases, a negligent driver could be forced to pay for medical expenses; if there were multiple cars involved, this could bankrupt the at-fault driver. In most states, points are added to the driver’s license of a driver who is found to be “at fault,” and when the points reach a certain number, that driver’s license could be revoked.

Why Should You Never Admit Fault at the Scene of the Accident?

Immediately following an auto accident, you are likely shaken up and even confused. It is extremely important that you not admit fault to anyone—not the other driver, not the police, not even a bystander. At this point, you may not have all the facts necessary to determine fault, so that determination is better left to the police, insurance companies, and your attorney. Not admitting fault extends to refraining from even saying “I’m sorry” at the scene. You may be saying you are sorry there was an accident at all, but your words can be misconstrued to be an admission of guilt.

How Can a Tronfeld West & Durrett Attorney Help Me After an Auto Accident?

If you have been involved in an auto accident in Virginia, an attorney from Tronfeld West & Durrett can help you! We will ensure you get the medical treatment you need and will fight for your right to an equitable settlement from day one. Don’t delay—contact Tronfeld West & Durrett today.