Car accidents can leave you traumatized and confused regardless of the amount of destruction caused. Getting to understand how and why the accident happened could be straining, but with the help of the right institutions (police officers, lawyers, and collision experts), you can have a closure on this. When an accident happens, law enforcers are often the first people to be informed of the accident. Their arrival at the scene marks the start of the investigation process.
When a car accident happens, fault is the biggest factor. It is the difference between having your medical bills covered or having to pay out of pocket. However: determining who is liable may require in-depth investigations and expertise. The three most important entities who determine fault are:
- Law Enforcement
- Crash Experts
- The Court
Once the accident is reported to the police, the police will arrive to the scene of the accident anywhere from a couple minutes to hours after the collision. They will interview any and all available witnesses at the scene, including the drivers involved. They gather all the information possible in order to draft their final crash report.
The officer files his report with the police department and becomes available online a few days later. Depending on the officer’s professional judgement, the report may explain who the officer believes was at fault for the accident. But this does not mean that the person named at fault is legally responsible for the accident. This can only be determined through the court system.
The officer or police department will issue traffic citations to the party identified at fault for having violated the applicable traffic rules. The accused party may be required to appear before a traffic court, or otherwise pay the ticket. Paying of the traffic ticket is often considered evidence of fault.
Crash experts have years of experience with analyzing different car accidents. They will often look at two major factors: the property damage and the data downloaded from one or more of the vehicles. From the property damage, the expert may be able to determine the speed of the vehicle at the time of the collision. From the crash data, the expert will be able to find what the vehicles did immediately before the collision (accelerate, brake, turn left/right).
From these data points, the expert will usually be able to make his/her report, which will conclude who is likely at fault for the accident. Hiring an crash expert is not cheap, so it’s best to hire a qualified car accident lawyer to help you through the process.
When you file a lawsuit in a court, the court system will determine who’s at fault by finding which parties were negligent while driving. A person is deemed negligent for not taking the reasonable caution under the accident’s circumstances. The judge or jury will deduce their judgments from the evidence present and arguments made by the each side before them. They will determine who’s at fault and what the damages were.
Fault and the Type of Accident
Depending on the type of accident, fault may be easy or difficult to determine. Let’s take a look at the most common types of car accidents:
Rear-end-accidents occur when a vehicle crashes into the vehicle in front of it. In nearly all occasions, the accident could have been avoided by the driver behind. The accidents often occur due to lack of attention and distraction by the driver behind. Therefore, it is likely that the police officer will automatically assign fault to the driver behind.
Head-on-collisions are also known as frontal crashes. This type is among the most catastrophic type of car accident, and usually results in massive damages. It happens when two vehicles, from opposite directions, crash into each other from the front ends. According to statistics, head-on-collisions often result from careless overtaking and a failure to pay attention.
In these crashes, it is possible that both drivers will say that the other car veered into their lane. This creates a “he said/she said” situation, where the officer must rely on either independent witness statements or the officer’s own judgment of who is telling the truth. Regardless of how the police officer assigns fault, the best way to prove fault is with the use of a collisions expert. The expert looks at photos of where the vehicles stopped and what the property damage looks like. He/she might also look at the vehicle data uploaded from each car, which explains what each car was doing right before the crash. The expert ultimately makes his/her determination of fault and writes a report, which can be used at trial to prove fault before a judge or jury.
Left Turn Accidents
When an accident occurs while one car is turning left on a solid green light and the other is going straight, the officer will likely assign fault to the driver who was turning left. The officer will presume that the driver turning left failed to yield to the driver going straight. However, additional facts or eyewitness statements could impact the officer’s initial determination.
Sideswipe/Lane Change Car Accidents
The sideswipe/lane change case is the classic “he said/she said” situation. The officer will likely have a difficult time deciding who was at fault. Third party witnesses will have a significant impact. And if you can bear the cost, a crash data expert may be able to determine the fault from the vehicle data.
It’s important to note that sometimes the police reports and decisions by insurance companies do not determine the outcome from the court system. For this and other reasons, it is often advisable seek the services of a seasoned car accident attorney.