How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

August 10, 2023 | By Impact Legal Car Accident Attorneys
How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

Sometimes fault is very clear in car accident cases – someone runs a red light or hits someone from behind. Other times, it comes down to the evidence proving where liability lies. Arizona and New Mexico are both at-fault states. This means negligent drivers who cause accidents are responsible for paying the damages that resulted from the accident. For this reason, establishing fault is crucial to car accident settlements. In this article, we'll discuss how fault is established. 

If you've been injured as the result of someone else's negligence, you are entitled to compensation to get you on the road to recovery. To discuss the facts of your case, give our personal injury lawyers a call or text today at (602) 345-1818

Who Determines Fault?

On the scene, a police officer will draft an official report that will identify who was at fault based on the officer's professional judgment after interviewing the involved parties and any witnesses to piece together the sequence of events. While the official police report will be a key piece of evidence, it is not the end-all-be-all in deciding who caused the event. Following the accident, each party will notify their own insurance companies, which will assign adjusters to the claims. From there, the adjuster will conduct an investigation to determine who was at fault in the accident. To make this determination, the adjusters will review the police report, medical records, interview witnesses, analyze property damage, and verify insurance policy details.   

When More Than One Party Is Liable

If more than one party is found to be responsible for the wreck, the insurance adjusters will assign a percentage of fault to each party based on the investigation. This is set forth by the doctrine of comparative negligence, to which Arizona and New Mexico both adhere. Comparative negligence allows parties to recover some compensation even if they played a part in causing the accident. A partially liable party's settlement will be decreased by the percentage of fault they are determined to have had in the accident. For example, if Bob, who was 20 percent liable for the accident, was rewarded $100,000 in damages, he would only receive $80,000. 

Proving negligence in an accident can be quite difficult. These four elements must exist:

  1. Duty - It must be proven that the defendant (liable party) owed the plaintiff (injured party) a duty of care. In a car accident case, this means that the defendant had a duty to others on the road to operate his or her vehicle in a reasonable and safe manner.
  2. Breach - After duty has been established, it must be shown that the defendant breached his or her duty of care to use reasonable care while driving.
  3. Causation - Evidence that the defendant directly caused injury due to his or her actions must exist.
  4. Damages - Evidence should support that the plaintiff incurred losses (damages) as a result of the accident.

Evidence Used to Determine Fault

Various forms of evidence are used to understand who the liable parties are in accidents. That's why is it critical to gather information and documentation throughout a personal injury claim investigation. Whether you accept a settlement or plan to go to trial, this is key. Read our guide to navigating the aftermath of a car accident for helpful information on gathering evidence and more. Some types of information that will be used to determine liability are:

  • The police report
  • Property damage (damage to vehicles, surrounding objects, the road, ground, etc)
  • Bodily injuries 
  • Video footage and photographs
  • Forensic analysis in some cases
  • Medical reports
  • Medical bills and other relevant expenses
  • Eyewitness interviews

Every case is different, so be sure to consult your personal injury lawyer about the specific pieces of evidence that may be key to building your case. 

Car accidents can be tricky and complex, especially if fault is contested. If you've been in an accident, consult a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to know what you may be up against. A lawyer will communicate and negotiate with the insurance companies, build your legal strategy, and maximize your injury settlement so that you can focus on recovery. To get started with a free consultation, call or text Impact Legal today at (602) 345-1818. You can also fill out our online form, and we'll reach back out to you