Found not guilty at traffic hearing, but insurance co. still says I'm at fault?
I was rear ended in an accident. The woman told the police I was in a fit of road rage and I stopped purposely, for no reason. They believed her and gave me a citation for improper stopping. To make a long story short, I was found not guilty at the traffic hearing.
Prior to the citation hearing, the insurance companies decided I was at-fault for the majority of the collision (80%). Despite the court verdict, her insurer is still claiming I have the majority fault (liability). They will not negotiate or examine facts.
Now I have to sue the women. Do I have to establish all of the facts of the collision, including the woman's misrepresentations, etc., to establish liability? Or simply state my innocence and point to the court verdict? Or both?
It seems to me I should simply point to the court verdict, and put the onus on the defendant to prove any contributory negligence on my part, right? What's the best way for me to go about this? Thanks.
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ANSWER for "Found not guilty at traffic hearing, but insurance co. still says I'm at fault?":
Patrick (Redding, CA):
You may be relying too much on the court verdict. It's important to know how the court verdict was rendered. Many traffic cases are dismissed when the police officer fails to appear at court, or the defendant completes community service and the case is dismissed.
If that was what happened in your case, then you weren't actually found "not guilty," but instead your case was dismissed. If so, that result will not be very strong evidence. You can certainly sue the woman. You should know if you do so, you will likely be up against her insurance company's attorney.
When a person buys car insurance they are also buying legal representation in the event they are sued after a car accident. Unless you are represented by an attorney, you will have a very difficult time, as you aren't trained in offering predicates for the admission of evidence, cross examination, relevance, and more.
If you are going to sue her, you really need to retain your own attorney. While your court verdict can be used as evidence, it will likely not, in and of itself, be enough to prevail in your case. The judge will listen to all the evidence, and balance the relative importance of each piece of evidence. The judge will also consider the existence of contributory negligence.
In your case, you will have the burden of proof to show by a "preponderance of the evidence" the defendant should be found liable for your damages. In a civil case a defendant is not found "guilty" or "innocent," but instead liable or not liable.
To prevail, you will have to offer your own testimony as to the facts of the accident. If you are going to represent yourself, you will need to know hearsay rules. If you aren't familiar with these rules, the defendant's attorney will likely frustrate you by interrupting you mid-sentence while objecting on the grounds of hearsay.
You should also know it is likely the insurance company's attorney will file a cross-claim against you. In so doing, the attorney will likely ask that if he or she prevails in the case, you be held responsible for his or her attorney's fees and court costs.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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