Determining Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident

After a car accident, it may be immediately evident who was at fault. Perhaps the other driver was speeding or even driving the wrong way. Unfortunately, assigning blame after a car accident is not always so obvious, and there may be a dispute about how the accident happened and who is at fault. During the injury claims process, there will be a determination of which portion of the blame each driver shares. Determining fault will have a huge impact on your potential recovery in a personal injury suit.

At Sevey, Donahue & Talcott, we want to help personal injury victims in Roseville understand how their cases might proceed so they can make an informed choice about their legal options. It is helpful to understand how fault is determined after a car accident in California. If you believe the other driver in your accident was at fault, our Roseville car accident lawyers are ready to help you fight them for the compensation you need and deserve.

Understanding Negligence

Since the determination of fault is based on negligence, the first step in understanding how fault is determined is understanding what negligence is in the legal sense. The legal definition of negligence is somewhat different than the way you might use the word in regular conversation – it is actually a set of four criteria:

  1. Duty: The person in question has a duty to do something that can be reasonably expected of them.
  2. Breach of duty: The person fails to uphold that duty.
  3. Causation: The breach of duty causes (or contributes to) an accident.
  4. Injury: The accident caused by the breach of duty causes injury to another person.

These terms can seem confusing in the abstract, so let’s apply them to an example of a car accident case. Say you are hit by a driver who is texting while driving. Here is how you would show that that driver was being negligent:

  1. Duty: All drivers can be reasonably expected to keep their eyes on the road. This is a duty.
  2. Breach of duty: The other driver breached that duty by looking away from the road to send a text message.
  3. Causation: The driver hit you because they were distracted and not looking at the road.
  4. Injury: You suffered multiple injuries in the accident.

In this example, it is pretty clear that the driver who was texting was driving negligently. However, to say that proof of one negligent action is all the proof of fault you need would be to oversimplify things. Driving is a very complicated activity, and there are many contributing factors to most accidents. The actual determination of fault will be based on all of the negligent actions that each of the drivers involved took that contributed to the accident.

Comparative Negligence in California

Under California law, the way that courts determine fault in a car accident is by a doctrine called ‘comparative negligence.’ What this means is that each driver’s negligent acts will be totaled up and weighed against each other to assign a certain percentage of fault to each. Some acts might be weighted more than others – for instance, driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic is a much larger contributing factor to an accident than driving five miles per hour over the speed limit. If either driver files and wins a personal injury suit, the damages that driver can recover will be reduced by their percentage of fault. In California, unlike in some other states, there is no maximum percentage of fault you can share and still recover damages.

Let’s consider the example from before. Say that when you were hit by the driver who was texting, you were ever-so-slightly speeding. Even though the other driver was not paying attention to the road, the argument could be made that they would have been less likely to hit you had you been traveling at or below the speed limit. Along with other factors, the jury might decide that the other driver was 90 percent at fault and you were 10 percent at fault. If you otherwise would have won $100,000 in your personal injury verdict, your compensation will be reduced by your share of the fault – 10 percent – to $90,000.

Gathering Evidence to Prove Fault

As we’ve seen, the way we prove fault is by proving the other driver’s actions were negligent. But a court or insurance company will not simply take you for your word that the other driver was actually engaging in all the negligent behaviors you are alleging. You will need evidence to convince them. Here are some of the common pieces of evidence that often prove useful in proving negligence:

  • Police reports describing the accident
  • Pictures from the scene of the accident
  • Witness accounts of what happened
  • Information about the weather and road conditions at the time and place of the accident
  • Medical documentation
  • Mechanics’ or insurance companies’ documentation of what happened to the cars
  • Each driver’s personal account of what happened

Because evidence gets more and more difficult to gather as time goes on and some of it disappears, it is important to gather as much evidence as possible, such as taking pictures right after the accident, and to get started on your case as soon as you can. As soon as you have decided to take legal action against a driver who injured you in an accident, you should start gathering evidence to prove they were at fault and get in touch with a Roseville car accident lawyer to start building your case.

Contact us

Proving fault after a car accident is not always easy, but the Roseville car accident lawyers of Sevey, Donahue & Talcott are up to the challenge. We will fight hard to minimize your share of fault and maximize your compensation in an eventual verdict or settlement. For more information and to set up a free consultation, call us now at (916) 788-7100 or contact us online today.