How insurance companies determine fault after an accident

By Beth Orenstein on May 2nd, 2012

If you've been involved in a car accident, your insurance company is going to investigate to determine who is at fault. Establishing fault is important because it determines how much you receive for your repairs and injuries and whether you have to pay a deductible.

To determine who is at fault, your insurance company will assign an adjuster to the case.

Adjuster looks at the evidence

The adjuster will look at the facts from the accident. The facts can include:

  • Statements from the drivers involved.
  • Statements from any witnesses to the accident.
  • The police report from the accident if one was filed at the scene or called in afterward.
  • The conditions at the time of the accident, including the time of day and the weather.
  • The design of the roads where the accident occurred and the posted speed limits.
  • The damage to the cars, which suggests point of impact. Adjusters will look at photographs of the cars or inspect them personally.

The adjuster also will consider the rules of the road and who had the right of way. For example, the driver who rear-ends another car is almost always at fault.

Newer cars may have on-board technology - similar to the black boxes on planes - that can help adjusters determine who is at fault. The recorders may provide information such as the speed at which the car was traveling when the accident occurred and whether its headlights were on.

Some cases go to arbitration

Cases may go to arbitration if the drivers' stories and evidence conflict, or the adjusters can't agree on who is at fault.

In those cases, independent parties may review the facts and the insurance companies agree to abide by their decision.

The more cars that are involved in the wreck, the longer it can take for adjusters to gather all the facts and determine who is at fault.

If you live in a state that has no-fault insurance, your insurance will pay your medical bills and lost wages regardless of who is at fault.

Tips for helping your case

You can help your insurance company determine who is at fault by:

  • Recalling what happened to the best of your ability. You don't want to embellish the truth or leave out important details. If your insurance finds out you knowingly falsified a report, it can deny your claim even if you're not at fault.
  • Reporting the accident as soon as you can. Your memory of the events will be sharper than if you wait a few days.
  • Calling your agent to work on your behalf. Your agent will work for you regardless of who is at fault.

Beth Orenstein
Beth Orenstein is a freelance writer. She works from her home in Northampton, Pa. A graduate of Tufts University with a bachelor's degree in English, she specializes in education, finance, real estate and medical topics.
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