How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?
In a Virginia car accident, the driver who is at fault (negligent) is legally responsible for compensating injured victims. But exactly how is fault determined in a car accident? In a simple two-car accident, it may be obvious which driver is at fault. More often — and especially in multiple vehicle accidents — determining fault involves a complex analysis of all the available evidence about the accident.
Types of Evidence in Car Accident Cases
Analyzing fault in a car accident requires reviewing many different types of evidence. A conclusion about who was at fault in the accident follows review of all the evidence. It is important to note that different reviewers (insurance companies, attorneys, the judge or jury) may reach different conclusions based on the evidence.
A number of different types of evidence factor into determining fault in an accident. They include:
The police report is an extremely important piece of evidence in any accident. It contains factual evidence, witness information, details collected at the scene, and often the officer’s opinion about what happened in the accident. The report is not an eyewitness account but rather a summary of what the officer found after the accident occurred.
While the police report is significant, it is not necessarily conclusive. It is just one piece of the puzzle. Insurance companies and attorneys for injured victims often disagree with police reports, especially when they include statements of opinion by the officer.
A driver who violated any traffic law is likely to be at fault in the accident. Citations issued for traffic violations as the result of the accident are an essential part of the evidence.
Photos of the Accident Scene
If a driver, passenger, witness, or the police took photographs after the accident, those photos are part of the evidence. Insurance companies and attorneys also may visit the scene later to photograph the layout of the area, even after the vehicles are gone.
Statements Made at the Scene
Any statements made immediately after the accident are relevant to determining who caused the accident. Occasionally, a driver admits fault (“I’m sorry, I didn’t see your car”). The drivers, passengers, and witnesses often make statements either to the police or to others at the scene.
Interviewing witnesses is a critical part of an accident investigation. While witness accounts can be contradictory and unreliable, they are part of the accident evidence.
The physical evidence of the accident can reveal a lot. It includes vehicles themselves — including the type and location of damage — as well as tangible evidence like skid marks or property damage.
The physical nature and location of injuries of the victims also can give clues to what happened in the accident. Hospital records detailing the injuries often reveal facts relevant to determining fault.
In some cases, public or private video recordings of the accident may be available.
Nature of the Accident
Knowing the type of accidents can be a major clue to fault. Certain types of accidents characteristically are the fault of a specific driver.
For example, in a left-turn accident, the turning driver is usually at fault. In a rear-end accident, the rear driver is usually at fault. Other evidence can counter these assumptions, but knowing the type of accident is an essential element in determining fault.
Especially in cases involving multiple vehicles and serious injuries, a victim’s attorney may use an expert to recreate the scene of an accident. Experts in accident reconstruction use a number of different techniques to assimilate the accident to ascertain exactly how the accident occurred. Car accident reconstruction involves a sophisticated and expensive analysis. It generally used only in complex accidents with significant injuries.
Accident reconstruction uses all the types evidence referenced above, as well as complex scientific and physics principles, to analyze and determine the cause of an accident. The expert may construct diagrams, charts, and other visual depictions of the accident for use at trial. In some situations, computer animation may be created.
Forensic animation for personal injury cases is a developing area. It involves a scientific audio-visual recreation of an accident. Courts are often skeptical of allowing attorneys to use experts who create forensic animation — but attorneys are increasingly relying on it to determine fault in car accident cases. Forensic animation requires extensive analysis and expert knowledge of the dynamics of physics and mechanics.
In most cases, when an attorney plans to use an accident reconstruction expert at trial, the judge will review the evidence to determine the accuracy and relevance before permitting the expert to testify at trial. The judge also may give the jury specific instructions relating to use of the expert testimony and evidence.
Proving Fault in Your Car Accident Case
If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident, your attorney will thoroughly investigate the accident and gather the types of evidence described above. After your attorney sorts and analyzes all the evidence, he or she will draw conclusions about how the accident occurred.
Evidence that establishes the negligence of the at-fault driver is particularly important. Evidence demonstrating that you did not contribute to the accident by your actions is also essential, since contributory negligence prevents recovery of compensation in Virginia.
When the investigation concludes, your attorney compiles all the important evidence that supports your claim. At that point, negotiations with the insurance company become serious. Your lawyer uses proof of the other driver’s negligence to press the insurance company for the full compensation you deserve.
Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Multiple-Vehicle Accident Attorney
If you suffered severe injuries in a Virginia auto accident that may be another person’s fault, or if you’ve lost a loved one in a crash, Virginia Beach car accident lawyer Jeff Brooke has the experience and skill to help you and your family. At The Jeff Brooke Team, we are committed to helping clients recover full compensation and to providing exceptional client service as well. Contact us by phone at (757) 785-0837 or by using our online contact form.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.