How is “Fault” Determined in a Car Accident Case?
What is Fault in a Car Accident Case?
The determination of fault in a car accident case is one of the most critical factors in a personal injury claim or lawsuit. Determining which party is at fault has a direct connection with the outcome of a claim or case. Fault is established by proving the other party acted in a negligent way. In a car accident case, “fault” could be decided at the scene of the accident, in a police report, by the insurance provider, or in court by a judge or jury.
Fault in car accident cases is determined by the rule of carelessness. If one party involved in an auto accident was less careful than another, they must be legally responsible for the damages suffered by the more careful one. The person who is at fault will be financially responsible for any injuries or vehicle damage caused by the accident. However, it’s usually that person’s car insurance company that foots the bill.
In some cases, assigning responsibility is pretty straightforward, such as in a rear-end collision or a clear violation of a traffic law. In other cases, it’s not clear who was at fault. Some auto collision cases will slog on for years as the involved parties fight over the issue of liability.
Determining faultin a car accident case usually means proving that someone was negligent. You’ll typically have to prove four elements to show negligence:
- Duty of care: You have to show that you were owed a duty of care by the other party (the defendant).
- Breach: The defendant breached their duty of care, either through intent or negligence.
- Causation: The defendant’s action or lack of action caused the accident to occur.
- Damages: You suffered measurable losses because of the defendant’s action.
There are several ways to determine who is at fault in a car accident. But generally, police officers, insurance companies, and the jury will use:
- Police reports
- Physical evidence (photos or videos from the scene of the accident)
- Witness statements
- Damage reports
- Expert witness reports
How is “Fault” determined in a Car Accident – Florida’s No-Fault Rule for Car Accidents
Florida is one of the states that follows a no-fault car insurance system. That means that each driver’s insurance company pays for the property damage, medical bills, and other losses experienced following an auto collision. The injured driver must turn first to their own personal injury protection (PIP) car insurance coverage to get compensation, regardless of who was at fault in the accident.
PIP in Florida covers medical costs, lost wages, and death benefits.
Medical costs: Your PIP will pay 80% of reasonable medical expenses related to the car accident injuries, subject to a $10,000 limit. Unless you have extended coverage, you’re responsible for paying the 20% balance.
Economic benefits: Florida PIP will pay for 60% of income lost because of the accident and injuries.
Death benefits: If the policyholder died following the accident, PIP would pay $5,000 in death benefits to the estate or relatives of the decedent.
You can, however, seek compensation from the at-fault driver if your injuries are severe and likely to outstrip your PIP coverage. If you’re able to step out of the no-fault system and file an insurance claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver, you’re entitled to compensation for the full spectrum of your losses, including:
- Full payment of medical expenses stemming from car accident injuries
- Compensation for lost income and other economic losses
- Compensation for your physical and mental pain and suffering
The Principle of Pure Comparative Negligence in Florida Car Accident Cases
If the other driver was entirely responsible for the car accident and you’re able to circumvent the no-fault rule because of the severity of your injuries, the at-fault driver will be liable to pay for the damages suffered. But what happens if you also contributed to the accident?
Florida follows a “pure comparative negligence” rule, which apportions damages between parties that are partly to blame for the accident. The jury is asked to calculate the total dollar amount of the plaintiff’s damages and each party’s percentage of fault. Under the pure comparative negligence rule, the damage may be reduced by a percentage equal to the plaintiff’s share of fault. For example, if the jury decides your total damages award should be $90,000, but they also decide you’re 20% at fault for the crash, you’re entitled to get 80% of the $90,000 total, or $72,000.
The rule of pure comparative negligence applies even if your percentage of fault is greater than the other driver’s. So, if the jury decides you’re 95% at fault, you can still get that 5% of the damages.
Talk to an Experienced St. Petersburg Car Accident Attorney
At Yanchuck Berman, our personal injury attorneys have a thorough understanding of Florida law and the precedents involved with determining fault in car accident cases. We will help you understand your rights and options and work toward the maximum compensation possible.