Determining Fault In A Car Accident: A Detailed Guide

Car accidents are more common than you think. In 2020, over 5.2 million car accidents occurred in the United States. Over 30% of those accidents resulted in injuries, while up to 68% caused property damage. The rest resulted in fatalities.

In North Carolina, over 245,000 traffic crashes were reported, with over a thousand lives cut short due to traffic accidents. Most car accidents can be traumatic and bring agonizing headaches. In many cases, determining the party responsible for the ensuing damages may require legal intervention.

Meanwhile, if you need help fighting for your legal rights, you can seek help from legal professionals. If you live in North Carolina, you can consult a reliable Raleigh car accident lawyer from reputable firms like The Bishop Law Firm or similar ones.

On the other hand, to help you better navigate the process, this comprehensive guide shares everything you need to know about determining fault in a car accident.

Understanding Fault In A Car Accident

An individual or party who caused the vehicle accident is considered at fault. Depending on the situation, the at-fault party can be easier to determine than others. For instance, a driver is responsible if they fail to stop amidst your signal lights, causing a collision. A driver under the influence can also be determined to be at fault.

Determining the at-fault party in a car accident is critical. Those responsible will pay for the damages, including personal injuries caused during the accident. Different states and localities have laws on determining responsibility for car accidents.

In general, fault can fall into two categories:

  1. Absolute Fault

If all evidence points to a driver’s negligence, they’re responsible for the accident. In that case, their insurance provider will cover the necessary damages and injuries to the victim.

  1. Partial Fault

Some car accidents may involve two or more partially at-fault drivers. In this case, your percentage at fault determines your responsibility for the damages or rights to compensation. Generally, there are two categories:

  • 51% Or More At-Fault: Your responsibility if you’re 51% or more at fault depends on your state. In some areas, the driver at fault for most damage will pay the total cost of damages and injuries.

However, in other states, each driver’s insurance provider will cover the percentage of damages equal to their determined percentage of fault. For instance, if you’re bound to be 25% at fault for the accident, your insurance company will pay a quarter of the total cost of the damages incurred.

  • 50/50 Fault: If distinguishing the percentage of fault is complex and no witnesses or evidence can substantiate it, some insurance providers may split the costs equally between the parties. However, keep in mind that some states may not allow this.

How Is Fault Determined?

In some instances, it may be easier to determine who’s responsible. However, identifying the at-fault party can be challenging in severe car accidents. Here are five ways to determine who’s to blame for the accident.

  1. Involved Drivers Decide

It’s the easiest way to resolve the accident. While still at the scene, drivers involved could decide who’s liable, settle immediately, and skip the time-consuming legal issues. However, it’s not always straightforward. Unfortunately, people can point fingers and blame each other as they talk.

In most cases, when both parties are intimidated or shaken up by the car accident, they may aggressively blame the other party. Remember that if you claim responsibility, you’ll shoulder the financial consequences of the damages and injuries.

Instead of pointing fingers, the best thing to do is to exchange insurance information. Then, note what happened and take pictures and videos of the scene and the damage. If there are any witnesses, talk to them and ask for their contact information.

  1. Police Report Decides

When a car accident occurs, it’s essential to call the authorities immediately. They can assist in the accident and determine who’s at fault. A police officer’s primary job in a car accident is to determine if anyone’s hurt and call for medical help. Secondly, they must assess the scene, noting the damage to both parties and the surroundings, and try to analyze who’s at fault.

A police officer can also draw a visual representation and take photos of the incident, keeping records of the location and extent of the damage for their police report. They can also look for additional evidence within the area. For instance, they may request CCTV footage from nearby establishments to help determine the at-fault party.

In addition, traffic police also have the authority to determine particular circumstances that could have caused the car accident. These may include speeding, distracted driving, or drinking while driving. They will ask many questions to drivers and witnesses around the scene.

The police report will contain all the information gathered about the accident. But did you know that a police report may help determine the responsible party for the accident based on the officer’s professional judgment?

However, most police reports don’t include information on who’s at fault. In some cases, even if a police report identifies the at-fault party for the accident, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the accused party will be held legally responsible for the damages.

A police report may not always show accuracy but may serve as decisive evidence in court. Plus, insurance companies will undoubtedly use it as a reference to determine the extent of the damage.

  1. Insurance Company Decides

After an accident, those involved must file a claim with their insurance provider. Once you file a claim, the insurance company will assign an adjuster. An insurance adjuster will oversee the investigation required for claim settlement.

As they investigate, an insurance adjuster will speak with witnesses, examine car damages, and evaluate medical reports. Ultimately, their investigation will determine which party is responsible. It’ll help them decide which claims they’ll have to fulfill. They may also assign a percentage of fault to each driver and split the damage costs based on these percentages.

If the other party is deemed at fault, your insurance company will seek a payout from their provider. Once approved, the other party’s insurance provider will reimburse you for the collision claim.

  1. Arbitration

If insurance providers from either side don’t agree, arbitration can help decide who’s at fault and resolve the issue. Arbitration can determine the extent of car accident damage and who should pay. Most large insurance providers do business this way.

Generally, arbitration can allow negotiation between parties, helping each party come up with a good deal. It helps reduce the number of lawsuits, making it less costly and cumbersome for insurance providers.

  1. Court Decides

If all else fails, you can file a lawsuit. The court will determine who’s at fault based on the laws. Once it’s decided, even the US Supreme Court can’t change the facts as the jury or judge has determined them.

During a car accident lawsuit, a court will consider the arguments from the drivers’ lawyers and various pieces of evidence presented. These pieces of evidence may include the following:

  • Vehicle Damage: It’s a significant factor in determining who’s at fault in a car accident. A car dent or any damage can tell a story and indicate who’s to blame in the accident. For instance, if your car’s rear sustains damage after the accident, it proves the driver behind your vehicle is to blame. Thus, taking videos and photos of the accident is essential.
  • Medical Records: They serve as another powerful piece of evidence in court. A doctor will take note of your injuries, detailing a scratch, bump, or severe injuries sustained. Even if it’s unclear who hit the other, a medical professional can provide insights about how your injuries may have happened.
  • CCTV Footages: Most public places, such as busy streets and highways, are constantly monitored with CCTV cameras. And surveillance footage can be a helpful way of determining who’s at fault.
  • Forensic Analysis: A forensic analyst will evaluate the scene if a complicated accident occurs. For instance, suppose multiple drivers or cargo trucks are involved. They can examine police reports and photographic evidence. They can also check the medical records and eyewitness statements to decipher the most likely cause of a collision.

In a court case, the jury or judge will determine fault based on circumstantial evidence that leads to negligence. However, it may take several court hearings before you get a verdict.


Car accidents—even minor fender benders—can be a traumatizing experience. A tragic car accident can have severe consequences for your life and pocket. Between the police, insurance, and the possibility of a lawsuit, determining the at-fault party can be tricky and challenging. After all, no driver would willingly take responsibility for the accident and shoulder all the expenses. 

If you or your loved ones are concerned about whether or not you’re responsible for the car accident, consulting an experienced car accident lawyer is the best option. They can enlighten you on laws and legal consequences. Ultimately, they can help you find the truth and seek compensation.