Driving is a part of our everyday lives. We depend on it for our jobs, family, and routine living. Although we may not think about it often, driving comes with an inherent risk, especially in California—a state where millions of drivers use our roads every day. Of these drivers, many are inexperienced, inefficient, aggressive, under the influence, distracted, or otherwise negatively affected once they get behind the wheel. If you’ve been recently involved in an accident, you may be searching for clarity on your next steps including who may be at-fault, especially if the other driver was behaving recklessly.
In most car accident cases, one or more individuals, also known as the responsible party, are at-fault for causing the accident. Although it may sound basic, it is far from easy to determine who exactly that responsible party may be. After all, many people deny causing an accident even though it may be crystal clear that it was caused by their negligence.
Denial from the other party can be the beginning of a long process determining fault. Simply pointing fingers or giving your word to the insurance company that it wasn’t your fault won’t help you establish fault on the other driver. You’ll need to gather evidence first and compare California law to your situation—and a good lawyer can help you every step of the way to ensure you find the responsible party at-fault.
HOW TO DETERMINE FAULT IN AN ACCIDENT
Evidence collected such as pictures and videos can help an individual prove that the other party was responsible for the car accident. Sometimes, though, an injured person may not have any “hard” evidence like photos given the fact that many accidents are caused by negligence such as drinking and driving, texting and driving, speeding, failure to pay attention, or otherwise illegal road maneuvers that have led to the car accident.
If you don’t have pictures or videos of the accident, you may still have a valid claim. Make your case against the responsible party by considering the following five steps to help determine fault in an accident. We highly encourage you to call an injury attorney once you are ready to pursue your claim.
1. REVIEW POLICE REPORTS & OTHER DOCUMENTATION
Police reports may or may not play a role in your claim against the other driver. First, it is very important that you remain at the scene of an accident and wait for police officers to arrive. During this time, do not say anything to the other driver while you wait. Once officers have arrived, they will interview you, the other driver, and each witness. The officer, or officers, will create a report based on what evidence, if any, is presented at the scene of the accident. Sometimes a police report may contain officers’ opinions on how the accident occurred or who may be at-fault, but reports are not definitive nor do they establish legal responsibility. If, however, the report states that the other driver is at-fault, it can be used to your advantage later when dealing with insurance companies or courts.
If the officers suspect that the other driver has broken the law, they will take action against the driver at the scene of the accident. Such action may include issuing a citation, calling for additional help, launching an investigation, or arresting the driver. In cases of drunk driving, police officers are well-trained in recognizing inebriated drivers and they will likely perform several sobriety tests, eventually leading to possible arrest. If the other driver is indeed charged with a DUI, or if he or she is otherwise found breaking the law, the driver will likely be determined at-fault for causing the accident.
Of course, given the complexity of car accidents, no case is entirely bulletproof. There are circumstances when dual-fault can be given in car accidents where both parties are found partially responsible. It all depends on the details of your case. If you need help, contact an experienced attorney who can review the intricacies of your claim.
2. LOOK BEYOND THE POLICE REPORT
Although police reports hold some weight in car accident cases, it isn’t the end-all to determining fault. Take for example a scenario where someone gets seriously hurt and must leave by ambulance to get immediate medical attention. Conversely, an individual may tragically die at the scene of the accident due to another’s negligence—and a police report can never fully know the truth.
In cases like these, the police only have access to the information given by the other driver left at the scene. Too many times, though, the at-fault driver can give a false report in order to protect themselves, leaving the injured person or the family of a loved one in a bind when it comes to filing an injury or wrongful death claim. Obviously, this is incredibly unfair and wrong, but a top attorney specializing in niche cases like these can help you untangle the details of your case. Ultimately, a good lawyer will uncover the truth and seek justice.
3. DOCUMENT THE DETAILS OF YOUR ACCIDENT
In the wake of a car accident, it’s all too easy to forget the details—after all, most people just want to put the accident behind them. However, the sooner you can record the details of your accident, the better. Documentation will be an important part of determining fault. You may wish to document:
- Any admission of guilt given by the other driver
- Any texts, messages or phone calls between you and the other driver
- Police reports and any citations
- Photos or a drawing of where the accident occurred
- Any laws that may have been broken by the other driver
- Pictures of vehicle damage
Documentation can demonstrate that the other driver was responsible for the accident if the details of your case show there was negligence.
4. RECONSTRUCT THE ACCIDENT
Many times, police officers can simply get it all wrong. Their report is, after all, an opinion. Without having been at the scene of the accident, an officer has truly no way of analyzing the fault of an accident in the face of vague details.
A good car accident attorney will build a comprehensive claim that includes reconstruction of your accident if your specific case warrants it. Reconstruction of the event can lead to success in court given that additional important details often arise during investigation. In cases where details remain vague, a car accident lawyer can hire investigators, reconstruct the sequence of events, revisit the scene of the accident, measure skid marks, take additional photographs of the area and interview other police officers or additional witnesses. Reconstructing the accident in detail can demonstrate that the other driver was at-fault for the accident and consequently responsible for your claim.
5. UNDERSTAND NEGLIGENCE
In every claim, there must be an at-fault party that is negligent. Negligence may take many forms, including:
DRUNK DRIVING. Unfortunately, some people can hide alcoholism very well, even at the scene of an accident in stark daylight. A good lawyer, through discovery, can find that the other person may have very well been drinking prior to the accident. If that’s the case, the other driver will likely be found negligent and at-fault in the accident.
TEXTING AND DRIVING. Even though it is illegal in the state of California, some drivers still choose to put their lives and the lives of others on the line when they text and drive. If you suspect the other driver was texting, inform your personal injury attorney right away.
AGGRESSIVE DRIVING. Whether it’s cutting you off intentionally or swerving across multiple lanes, aggressive driving is a common cause of car accidents. The other driver can be determined negligent and responsible for your accident if he or she is found to have been driving aggressively.
SPEEDING. The severity of an accident goes up exponentially when speeding is a factor in the case. If you suspect the other driver was speeding, let your attorney know. Through the reconstruction of your car accident, a competent attorney can help you build your claim against the other driver.
DANGEROUS ROADWAYS. The government can and should be held responsible if roadways are not kept safe for California drivers. If your accident was the cause of a dangerous roadway, your lawyer will help you file a claim against the government entity responsible for your injuries.
WHEN IT’S TIME TO FILE A CLAIM
If you recently were involved in a car accident and you believe the other person was at-fault, you may have a case. In California, you can file a claim against the other driver through his or her insurance company. Of course, the insurance company won’t simply nod yes and pay your claim. And, given that the law is complex, anytime a claim is considered, an attorney’s advice should be sought right away. One wrong move and your case can be dismissed immediately. Preserving all of your rights before making a claim is essential to ensure you get the highest settlement for your case.
WHEN AN INSURANCE COMPANY DENIES YOUR CLAIM
Many clients come to us after their claim has been denied by an insurance company. If your case was dismissed by the other person’s insurance company or if they claim you were partially at fault, you do not have to agree to these terms. Filing a lawsuit against the insurance company may be the only way to recover the compensation your claim is actually worth. Working with an experienced San Diego injury attorney ensures that stress is minimized for you during the claims process.
FREE CONSULTATION 24/7
If you need more information about at-fault accidents, call the car accident lawyers at Pines Salomon, APC for a free consultation. We don’t charge you a penny until we win your case. Call us today at 858-551-2090 and speak to someone right now.
SENIOR PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY & FIRM FOUNDER
Michael Pines is a former insurance company attorney who graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1987. While he was an insurance attorney, he learned from behind the scenes how insurance companies work and how they decide how much to pay injured people. Now that he works against insurance companies, Michael’s inside knowledge has resulted in significant benefits to his clients injured in car accidents. Learn more about Michael Pines