Proving fault is critical to winning your car accident case. Learn what counts as predetermined fault and how it can help your injury claim or lawsuit.
If you’ve been in a car accident and are ready to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, you should know about the legal theory of Predetermined Fault, also known as Predetermined Negligence.
Predetermined fault means the other driver’s actions were so obviously negligent, that to argue about it would be a waste of everyone’s time.
In a situation like this, the other driver’s insurance company won’t flat out deny their insured’s fault for the accident. They will, however, look for other excuses to reduce or deny your claim. Here’s what you need to know.
What Counts as Predetermined Fault?
The most common types of car accidents involving predetermined fault are rear-end collisions and left-turn accidents where the turning driver does not have the right-of-way.
The Last Vehicle in Rear-End Collisions
The most common example of predetermined fault is a rear-end collision. Because a driver can’t easily judge the exact distance of their car behind the one in front of them, most states follow the reasonable and prudent standard:
“The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle, and the traffic upon, and the condition of the roadway.”
A reasonable and prudent distance between two cars can be measured in two ways:
- The driver behind should maintain a distance of one car length for every 10 miles per hour of speed.
- The driver should keep far enough behind the car in front so that if they must stop suddenly, they will have at least two seconds to react before hitting the car in front of them.
In most rear-end collisions, the at-fault driver was not maintaining a safe distance. It’s almost impossible for anyone to prove they were following at a safe distance and still managed to crash into the car in front of them.
Most court decisions find that if you hit the car in front, you weren’t maintaining a reasonable or prudent distance behind the other driver.
Insurance companies know they can’t get away with denying your claim if you were rear-ended, so they will look for other reasons to deny or reduce your injury claim.
Never assume that simply because it’s a rear-end collision, the insurance company will agree that the driver in back is 100 percent at-fault.
Left-Turn Without the Right of Way
Another example of predetermined fault is a left-turn collision. Drivers making a left turn across a lane of oncoming traffic must wait until the cars driving in the opposite direction have safely passed. There are few excuses for a driver to turn across a lane of oncoming cars.
Traffic laws in most states require the driver who is preparing to turn left to be sure the intersection or oncoming lane is clear of all other vehicles before making the turn.
Find out about your state’s Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws.
Predetermined fault is not always obvious. Sometimes the circumstances of the accident must be reviewed to find evidence of fault. Some of these cases include:
Cutting Across Lanes of Traffic
Cutting across several lanes of traffic, especially on a busy highway, is an example of probable predetermined fault. Accidents and injuries caused by sudden lane changes can happen when:
- A driver realizes they’re about to miss the exit and impulsively cuts across the lanes, without using turn signals
- An impatient or angry driver aggressively cuts back and forth in lanes of traffic, rather than traveling at the same speed as everyone else
Drivers Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
An intoxicated driver will be hard-pressed to find an excuse for causing an accident. Unless the victim’s negligence was so strong as to outweigh that of the drunk or high driver’s, an arrest for DUI will be all a victim needs to establish fault.
Driving Without a Valid License
If the at-fault driver had a suspended or revoked license, it could help in your negotiations, especially if the license was suspended for speeding, DUI, or other forms of reckless driving.
Your claims of negligence are also supported if the negligent driver never had a valid license.
The person’s legal driving status won’t be absolute proof of fault, but can undermine the at-fault driver’s credibility. You may also have a case against the vehicle owner who allowed an unlawful driver to use their car.
How to Prove Predetermined Fault
You might think the other driver’s fault for your car accident is so completely obvious that the insurance company will just write you a check.
Unfortunately, the insurance claim process is adversarial. The adjuster will always make you prove their insured was at fault for the accident.
Your burden of proof might not be as heavy in cases of predetermined fault, but you still must show the adjuster evidence of the other driver’s fault.
Police Reports and Traffic Citations
One of the best sources of evidence for establishing fault is a police report. The investigating officer’s report will include diagrams of the accident, each driver’s explanation of what happened, and the officer’s official opinion as to the cause of the accident and who was at fault.
Police officers are trained to make an unbiased evaluation of auto accidents. They receive continuing education in accident reconstruction and state traffic laws. Their opinions can make or break an insurance claim.
Many car accidents are caused by the at-fault driver’s violation of local traffic laws. The investigating officer will issue a traffic citation to the driver for each violation.
For example, tickets may be issued for following too close, failure to yield, or excessive speed. A traffic citation makes it very difficult for the at-fault driver to escape liability.
Insurance claims adjusters know that if they don’t settle your auto insurance claim for a reasonable amount, it could turn into a lawsuit against their insured. That’s the last thing an insurance adjuster wants, especially when you have authoritative evidence of negligence, like a police report.
Good Evidence Supports Your Claim
The more evidence you have to prove the other driver is liable for the accident like stronger your case will be. In addition to the police report, try to gather:
- Witness Statements: Independent witness statements are the most convincing, but you can submit statements from anyone who saw the other driver cause the accident.
- Photographs and Videos: You can collect photographic evidence on your own by taking pictures at the accident scene, or your attorney can obtain footage from traffic cams or nearby businesses’ security cameras.
- Cell Phone Records: Proof that the other driver was emailing or texting while driving can often suggest predetermined fault in motor vehicle accidents.
Learn more about Using Auto Accident Liability to Negotiate a Higher Settlement.
Predetermined Fault Is Not Guaranteed
If you’re injured in a car accident in a no-fault insurance state, you won’t have to prove who caused the accident for most injury claims. You’ll settle your injury claim under your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage.
You’ll need a good personal injury attorney for severe injury claims that exceed the no-fault injury threshold.
However, in no-fault states, you are allowed to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for your vehicle damages. If you do, predetermined fault might come into play.
Predetermined fault is no guarantee that the other driver’s insurance company will pay the full value of your injury claim. Adjusters are trained to find reasons to reduce or deny your compensation.
The first thing an adjuster will look for is shared liability. The legal term for shared liability is contributory fault or comparative fault, depending on where the accident takes place.
In Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the adjuster can use contributory fault laws to flatly deny your claim if you share as little as one percent of the blame for the accident.
At the other extreme, in California, New York, and ten other states with pure comparative fault rules, you still have the right to seek compensation from the other driver even if you’re 99 percent at fault.
Under modified comparative fault rules, if your claim isn’t denied, your compensation can be reduced in proportion to your share of the blame.
Example: Shared Fault for Rear-End Collision
Derek was traveling on the interstate late one Saturday night. He had been following about three car lengths behind Jane when suddenly, Jane slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting a deer.
Derek didn’t react in time and crashed into the rear of Jane’s car. While Dereck was ticketed for following too closely, the police report contained witness testimony that Jane’s brake lights were not working.
Jane was transported to the hospital and treated for neck injuries. She was out of work for three weeks.
Jane filed an injury claim with Derek’s insurance company, demanding $10,000 for her injuries and pain and suffering.
The adjuster agreed that Derek was liable for rear-ending Jane’s car. However, the adjuster determined that Jane was 40 percent at fault for the accident, arguing that Derek would have had more time to react if her brake lights had come on.
Using the state’s modified comparative fault rules, the adjuster offered Jane a $6,000 settlement, representing a 40 percent reduction to the $10,000 value of Jane’s claim.
When an Attorney Can Boost Your Compensation
If you’ve recovered from minor injuries, and the adjuster has accepted liability for the other driver, you can probably negotiate your claim without an attorney.
Serious injury claims need a good personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of compensation you deserve. Severe, potentially permanent injuries are high-dollar claims. Insurance companies are notorious for offering far less money to seriously injured claimants who are not represented by an attorney.
You’ll need an attorney when the insurance company is trying to reduce your claim because of shared blame, a pre-existing injury or medical condition, multiple cars in the crash, or any other complication.
You don’t have to settle for less. A reputable personal injury attorney will have the skills and experience to fight the insurance company on your behalf.
Most attorneys don’t charge car accident victims for an initial consultation. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you.
Video: How Predetermined Fault Impacts Auto Accident Claims
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