Determining who is legally responsible for an automobile accident requires an investigation that identifies the negligent driver. While most of us would agree that a few facts about the accident and some common sense should come together to identify the negligent driver, the reality is that some accidents are often very complex and proving negligence may hinge on whether any laws were violated.
You can count on IRMS and our insurance company Claims Adjuster partners to guide you through the claims process following an accident but the following information may be helpful in understanding how an accident is evaluated.
Police Reports: If the accident was reported to law enforcement, there will be a police report. We recommend that you call the traffic division to request a copy of the police report for any accident you are involved in. Many police reports contain a responding officer’s opinion about who was at fault. If one party clearly violated any laws, that will be stated in the report. In most cases, any mention of the other party violating a law that resulted in an accident is enough to satisfy the insurance company adjusters as to which driver was negligent.
State Laws: State traffic laws are another good resource. These laws may be referred to as vehicle codes, and they can usually be found by visiting the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website. Campus law libraries and local public libraries may contain more detailed versions of these codes, but the versions provided by the DMV are usually written in easy-to-understand terms. Search for topics that may have contributed to the accident such as roadway markings, right of way, and speed limits.
Assumed Negligence: In some accidents, it is clear which driver was at fault based on the facts included in the police report, so the insurers providing the coverage for each driver won’t debate about which driver was negligent. For example, someone who hits the back of another driver’s vehicle is almost always to blame. One of the basic rules of the road in every state is that a driver should follow the vehicle ahead of them at a safe enough distance to be able to stop even if the other person brakes suddenly. In this situation, the facts are easy to prove because one driver’s vehicle will be damaged on the front end, and the other driver’s vehicle will have damage to the rear.
For drivers who are rear-ended, there are a few situations where their carelessness can be a contributing factor. If the insurance company investigates the claim and finds that the claimant’s brake lights were out, or he or she had ignored other mechanical issues that were a contributing factor, the amount of compensation could be reduced.
Another example of an accident where there is often a clear indication of negligence is a left-turn accident. Usually, anyone who makes a left turn and is struck by a vehicle on the other side of the road that is going straight in the opposite direction is an at-fault driver unless the other vehicle was speeding. However, drivers with the right-of-way at a four-way stop are not to blame for left-turn accidents. This is also true if there is a green turn arrow in an intersection where oncoming traffic ignores the signal.