How Is Fault Determined in an Accident?

Determining fault can be tricky, and nobody likes surprises when it comes to their insurance rates. Get the scoop on some common fault scenarios so you’re not left asking, “Why?”

My mother always told me that it’s rude to point fingers. I mean, they’re called accidents for a reason. Nonetheless, when it comes to insurance, liability is part of the deal. Determining fault in an accident can be tricky — laws differ from state to state and interpretations of those laws run the gamut.

While it’s always good to be familiar with your local laws, here are some common questions we get about fault and how it might impact your insurance policy.

“If the police say it wasn’t my fault, then obviously my insurance company will agree, right?”

Not exactly. While the outcome often matches the police report, your insurance company has the final at-fault say. They’ll collect all sorts of evidence, including the police report and witness statements, to come to a conclusion. Some states have processes in place to appeal the decision, but, in most scenarios, the insurance company makes the call.

“I saved Bambi’s life and hit a tree instead. Who’s picking up the tab for my new bumper?”

You know the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”? Well, unfortunately, that’s kind of the case here. There’s no doubt the deer is thankful for your quick reflexes, but he won’t be able to pay for the damage. Thankfully, if you have collision coverage, your insurer will help cover the cost. Keep in mind, however, that it’s likely you’ll be found at fault in a collision with a tree (even if you are Bambi’s hero), which could cause your insurance rate to go up.

This is pretty standard when it comes to solo accidents. Whether black ice causes you to slide into a guardrail or a massive downpour puts you on top of your neighbor’s fence, if you’re the only one involved, you’ll typically be found at fault and your insurance will probably be impacted. So protect yourself and your rates by remembering to take your time and drive safely.

And if you ever do hit an animal out on the road, your comprehensive coverage will kick in. Comprehensive coverage protects you against things like vandalism, natural disasters, and yes, animal-related accidents.

Plus, with comprehensive coverage, your insurer will help pay for the damage, so you aren’t as likely to see a drastic change in your rates.

“I was in a fender bender last week. I’ll admit, eating Chinese while driving was a bad idea, and I ended up being at fault. Will my insurance rates skyrocket?”

It depends. Your rates won’t rise automatically, but your insurer will look at the evidence, as well as your driving record, and assess your payments. If you’ve been accident-free since ‘73, you probably won’t see a crazy jump in price. We wouldn’t want one mistake to ruin that kind of a record.

If your rates do rise, the best way to bring them back to earth is to turn over a new leaf, put down the chopsticks, and keep your hands at 9 and 3. Safe driving is always rewarded.

“I parked my car on the street in a less-than-awesome neighborhood. The next morning, I was down 2 windows. Am I at fault?”

Great way to start the day, right? The good news is if you have comprehensive coverage, your insurance may help cover the damage. Even though you parked in a sketchy part of town, comprehensive coverage protects you from vandalism (while renters and homeowners insurance will help pay for items stolen from your car).

Want to learn more about local fault laws?

Insurance companies do their best to make sure you don’t take the fall for an accident that wasn’t your fault, but it always helps to know the rules ahead of time. Visit your state’s DMV site or call us at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262).

If you’re already an Esurance policyholder and you’re curious about how a recent ticket or claim might impact your policy, you’re in luck! Log into your account and check out the Esurance What If® Calculator — our one-of-a-kind, super handy, hypothetical calculator that helps you estimate how certain events could affect your insurance rates.

Related Links

How Fault Is Determined in an Accident
Comprehensive and Collision
Quiz: Comprehensive vs. Collision

30 Responses to “How Is Fault Determined in an Accident?”

  1. Avatar for Jennifer Wood
    October 27, 2014 #

    I appreciate the advice but most of this is basic common sense. If you are stupid enought to eat, text or do anything else while driving than perhaps you shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car in the first place. If you are headed to a sketchy part of town, take a taxi. The price of your cab fare is way less than the cost of having your car repaired due to vandalism.

  2. Avatar for Jennifer Wood
    October 27, 2014 #

    Michigan is a no-fault state in that your insurance covers you, but fault is still assessed and could involve the not at fault driver's insurance company going after the at fault driver's insurance. A lot of misunderstanding on the Michigan law as evidenced by Arthur's comment.

  3. Avatar for Jennifer Wood
    October 27, 2014 #

    Car insurance is a rip off, you pay on time, do everything that you are supposed to, and when you get into an accident after paying out all this money evey month, all they are interested in is who's fault it is!!! So yes, you have insurance but you get punished for having to use it, what a bad joke!!!

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