How is Fault Determined in Car Accident Cases?
New Jersey is a no-fault state, which means a person’s own auto insurance provides payment for medical expenses for the insured up to the policy limit regardless of who caused the accident. However, there are times when it may be necessary to prove fault for your accident.
If you are injured in an automotive accident, it is important to contact an experienced New Jersey auto accident lawyer. Our attorneys can help you establish the other driver’s fault in the accident so you can recover the compensation you deserve for your injuries, medical bills, pain and suffering, and more.
Why You Need to Prove Fault after an Accident
Because personal injury protection (PIP) insurance in New Jersey provides compensation regardless of fault for an accident, injury victims most often will not have to worry about proving fault for the accident.
However, there may be times that you will need to file an accident claim against the other driver’s policy. If you want to recover compensation for damages that exceed your PIP coverage, you will need to show the other driver was at fault.
You may also have the opportunity to sue the other party for damages like medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. However, filing a personal injury lawsuit requires proving that the other party was at fault for your accident.
Insurance companies determine each driver’s degree of fault based on the Comparative Negligence Act. New Jersey uses a modified comparative fault scheme. If a driver is more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, he or she cannot recover for any damages sustained. If he or she is less than 50 percent at fault for the accident, he or she can recover, but the amount of compensation is adjusted to account for his or her own degree of fault. For example, if you are 15 percent at fault, your total recovery is reduced by 15 percent.
Insurance companies determine each driver’s degree of fault on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances involved in the case and various factors.
Factors that Determine Fault
There are a number of factors that can help establish fault in a car accident, including the following:
Type of Collision
In certain types of accidents, there may be a presumed version of fault based on state law. For example, in rear-end collisions, the driver who was behind the other vehicle is usually determined to be at fault. This is because the driver from behind is supposed to leave enough space between his or her vehicle and the vehicle in front.
Similarly, there are laws that determine who has the right of way in certain situations. For example, the standard rule when one vehicle is turning left while oncoming traffic is moving forward is for the turning vehicle to wait until it is clear before turning. If the driver hits an oncoming vehicle while turning left, he or she is usually found to be at fault. However, there may be exceptions, such as if the vehicle going straight was speeding or running a red light.
A police report may be a significant factor in determining fault. The responding officer includes details about the accident and his or her own opinion about the cause of the accident. The officer may note the speed limit in the immediate vicinity, whether he or she observed skid marks, or whether the officer suspected distracted or drunk driving. Insurance companies often review police reports before determining fault allocation.
In some cases, a witness may have observed the accident. Witnesses may explain to the responding officer what they saw. This information may also be recorded in the police report.
The insurance company or your attorney may also attempt to talk to witnesses after the accident to obtain their view on what happened.
Sometimes insurance companies may make their own assessment regarding the cause of the accident by reviewing physical evidence like vehicle repairs and photos of the accident scene.
Evidence to Prove Fault
The insurance company and your attorney will conduct an investigation and review various evidence to determine the degree of fault of each party. Evidence for proving fault could include:
- Police reports
- Statements by each driver
- Witness statements
- Photos of the accident scene, vehicle damage and injuries
- Red light camera footage
- Surveillance camera footage
- Black box footage, if available
- Vehicle damage reports
Contact an Experienced Auto Accident Lawyer
You may disagree with the insurance company’s ultimate findings. Insurance adjusters are paid to minimize the amounts that insurance companies have to pay out for claims. A personal injury lawyer can advocate on your behalf and conduct an independent investigation to prove why the other driver was at fault.
A personal injury lawyer can protect your rights by filing a timely claim within the time limits provided under the law. A lawyer can discuss results of an independent investigation during settlement talks or at a trial if the insurance company refuses to provide you with just compensation.
At the Lynch Law Firm, PC, we can discuss your legal options during a free initial consultation. We work on a contingency fee basis so you only owe us if we successfully recover on your claim.
Call (800) 518-0508 today.