A Guide to At-Fault Car Accidents

Feeling shaken is a typical response to any car accident, even the smallest fender-bender. And that’s okay. Before you try to determine what happened or who’s at fault, take a deep breath and focus on what’s most important. Are you and the other people involved in the accident okay?

If You’re at Fault in a Car Accident

Your job at the scene of an accident is not to accuse others or admit fault. But once you know everyone is safe, you have some responsibilities and a role to play. So, what should you do after an accident?

Right after the Accident

Stay put. For safety’s sake, you might need to move your car out of an intersection or heavy traffic, but don’t leave the scene. If you’re worried about an injury or someone else in the vehicle, let 911 come and handle it. You don’t want to make matters worse by turning it into a hit and run accident.

Remain calm. This is a stressful time, so take a moment to calm yourself as much as possible. Emotions are totally normal, but this isn’t the time to start screaming or getting angry. In fact, this reaction could make things worse. Try to be as polite as possible.

Contact the proper authorities. If you need to call 911, this should be the first thing you do. After that, it’s a good idea to call the police. In some areas the police will always come, but in bigger cities or if the accident is a simple fender bender in a parking lot, they might not come. Having them there and getting the police report afterward can help the insurance companies determine who was at fault.

Gather evidence. It’s helpful if you can safely take photos of the accident as-is, before the cars are moved out of traffic. Remember to keep your safety top-of-mind and never put yourself at risk to snap a photo. Begin documenting the damage and any other facts. Gather license plate numbers, the time of day, traffic conditions, and any road hazards that might have impacted the accident. If there are witnesses, try to get names and contact information. And, of course, you’ll want the other driver’s name and contact information along with their insurance information.

Avoid admitting fault. You might find it difficult, but try to avoid admitting fault. Don’t lie. Simply report the facts as you saw them without saying “it’s my fault.” The police and the insurance companies will come to their own conclusions based on all of the facts and reports from everyone involved and any witnesses.

Contact your insurance. You want to let your insurance carrier know about the accident right away. Not only will your agent help you start processing your claim, they can also help you understand your car insurance and walk you through gathering evidence at the scene.

When You Call Your Insurance Company

At the scene. The first contact you’ll have with your insurance company is at the scene, but you probably won’t have a long conversation with them. Tell them the basics about the accident, including the location, then ask for next steps.

Report the facts. Admitting fault in a car accident is never a good idea. But make sure you detail what happened from your point of view. As the saying goes — just the facts.

Gather and submit evidence. If you took pictures and collected contact information from other drivers and/or witnesses, pull this data together. Your insurance agent will tell you how they want you to submit it.

Police report. If the police came to the scene and made a report, let your agent know. Find out if they want you to get the report or if they will get it for you.

File the claim. Later, when you get a chance to talk to your agent in a safe location, ask how to start the process of filing a claim. Or you can go online and use our Report a Claim form.

Will My Insurance Cover Me if I’m at Fault?

The type of car insurance you have will play a big role in the coverage you get when you’re in an accident that was your fault. Let’s look at some of the more common types of car insurance and how they come into play. Keep in mind, car insurance requirements by state can vary, so it’s best to check with your agent to see what your state requires.

Collision. If you’re in an accident, whether it’s your fault or not, your collision insurance will step in and help pay the expenses. Typically collision insurance has a deductible and you can pick the amount. Usually the higher the deductible is, the lower your premiums are.

Bodily injury liability insurance. When you’re responsible for an accident, bodily injury liability coverage helps cover the costs of injuries to your passengers, the driver and passengers of the other vehicle. It goes beyond just medical expenses and can help with pain and suffering, lost wages, legal fees and funeral costs. This is exactly the type of insurance you want in this situation.

Comprehensive. This is insurance that covers you when there’s an accident that doesn’t involve another car. Comprehensive insurance covers you if you hit an animal, your car is vandalized or is damaged in a hailstorm. But this isn’t what you use when you hit another vehicle.

How Do Insurance Companies Determine Fault in a Car Accident?

Before we decide how insurance companies determine fault, it’s key to look at how the state views it. In most states an accident is fault-based, meaning someone is at fault or negligent, even if the fault is shared between the drivers. A few states have no-fault insurance laws. In these states each person’s insurance company pays for medical expenses up to a pre-defined amount. But even in no-fault states, the cost of repairs is still subject to fault.

So now that we know there may be a different set of critera in your state, let’s look at how insurance companies typically determine fault in a car accident.

Police reports. The police report is considered a good, objective look at the accident. While the police typically weren’t there when it happened, they’re experienced in asking the right questions, collecting important information and getting people to cooperate.

Evidence from the scene. If you gathered evidence, your insurance company is going to use this to help determine fault. They might also collect evidence from the other insurance company.

Witnesses. If there were witnesses who provided their names and contact information, your insurance company will reach out to them to get their take on the accident.

The environment. Your insurance company will carefully evaluate the accident location, the time of day and other factors. For example, certain areas are known to be dangerous, or inclement weather could have been a factor, or construction or another accident may have played a role in your incident.

Will Being At-Fault Affect My Insurance Premiums?

If it’s determined that you’re at fault, your insurance rates won’t automatically rise. They might not rise at all. Your insurance company will look at several factors before making any rate determinations. They’ll review are your driving record and the circumstances around the accident. And if you have a first accident forgiveness policy, your rates won’t go up. If they do go up, your next step is to start fresh and reestablish your good driving record. One accident won’t affect your rates forever.

If you are found at-fault or negligent in a car accident, try not to be too hard on yourself. Accidents happen, and we’re here to help you through it and get back on track. If you’d like more information on car insurance you can connect with your American Family Insurance agent. Or, you can check out our auto insurance comparison guide to discover what coverage is best for you.

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Related Topics: Car Insurance , Car Safety , On The Road