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

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

  1. A,L.S.
    October 22, 2014 #

    Awareness, In parking lots (Walmart) Be very careful with pedestrians, first & foremost, try parking away from other motorists,Freeways know your off ramps at least one ramp before your off ramp, be patient & courteous, considerate of others , be a happy driver. Plan & be AWARE.A.L.Z.

  2. Maty
    October 22, 2014 #

    This told me nothing. It was an advert for comprehensive coverage.

  3. LUH
    October 22, 2014 #

    It's so true about this blog. I had a policeman visit me at the hospital and told me that it was not my fault. He had me change my story that I did not yield at an intersection (because it was against the law to yield there) and him being the law I thought he knew better. I have a feeling that a policewoman that was there was related to the kid in the car who did not yield and was on the phone at that time. So be careful with this matter and always take pictures. Another fault is not having a cell or camera ready. If your injured try to see if someone can call a relative for you so they can take pictures and see if they can find witnesses. You never know what's going to happen.

  4. Arthur
    October 23, 2014 #

    Michigan is a no fault state.. If you run in to me, none is at fault. Each insurance company covers their drivers.

    • Alicia
      October 27, 2014 #

      I wish every state had that policy, at least the lawyers would not get rich and a good driver would pay less for coverage.

  5. JT Williams
    October 23, 2014 #

    Don't forget that all insurance companies maintain a shared file on you and your claims, similar to a credit report. Don't think of your insurance company as your friend or advocate. I once called to let Liberty Mutual know someone touched my bumper in a parking lot, but no damage, just in case they tried to claim it later.

    They put a "claim" for $0 on my file which is almost impossible to get removed, and counts against your rating.

  6. Dan
    October 25, 2014 #

    Here where I live you need to be extra careful as we have some crazy drivers!! You are at fault no matter what.

  7. Jay
    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.

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