Motor Vehicle Accidents Law

Partly at Fault for a Car Accident?

After a car accident, the stress and heat of the moment can lead to disagreements about who was responsible. Different drivers have very different views on who was the at-fault driver.

What Does 'At Fault' Mean?

"At fault" references the person mainly responsible for causing the accident. It is a legal term within the personal injury area of law, unless you live in a no-fault state.

Usually, both people start pointing the finger at the other because they believe their own driving was beyond criticism.

When it comes to car insurance and compensation claims, however, there needs to be a decision on who was at fault. Insurance adjusters need to know details so they can reimburse or charge the right driver.

This leads to the question asked by many: Am I still able to make an accident claim when I was partly at fault for the car accident?

One Party to Blame is 'At Fault'

For some accidents, working out who was to blame will be easy. When a person has broken a traffic law, it is not difficult to deduce that they have caused the resulting accident. For example, they might collide with another vehicle after running a red light.

Some accident types, including rear-end collisions and left-turn accidents, are also generally straightforward when it comes to who to blame. They are assumed to have been caused by one driver, and the resulting damage will be evidence of their negligence.

Shared Blame is 'Partial Fault'

The blame for many accidents is often shared, or there is a degree of fault. Both drivers' conduct will have been — to an extent — negligent, and the combination will have resulted in a crash.

For example, one accident victim may have been distracted by their phone, while the other was talking to their passenger. When this is the case, any insurance claim will be based on working out each party's negligence.

An Overview of Negligence

Working out who is at fault involves figuring out how far each party's negligence contributed to the accident. This is based on the circumstances of the accident. It also reviews the versions of the incident that both parties have told.

It could include considering whether factors such as traffic or weather conditions have played a role. An insurance company will work to produce a calculation on how far — as a percentage — each party was at fault for the accident.

Pure Contributory Negligence

Different states have different ways to approach negligence. A few apply a concept of “pure contributory negligence," where a party is unable to claim any damages if they are remotely at fault for the accident.

This means that a person who is even 1% responsible for an accident will not be able to claim anything.

Comparative Fault vs. Comparative Negligence

Most states use some form of what is called “comparative fault." This doesn't stop the person at fault from claiming money, but does hold them accountable as part of the accident's cause. This will reduce a person's ability to claim full damages by the percentage they are at fault for the accident.

For example, if a person is found to be 40% at fault for a car accident case, their damages will be reduced by 40%.

Some states have set a lower limit of comparative fault. For example, some states say that you are barred from claiming damages if you are more than 51% at fault for the accident.

Comparative negligence is another way of looking at your responsibility in the accident compared to the other person. For example, you might think you caused the accident, but it turns out the other person was speeding. The case can shift from you feeling the blame to the other person being more at fault.

"Pure comparative negligence" is another term for each person only paying for their percentage of the accident.