Marissa Hayes is a technical editor and contributing writer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history, and she was the editor of the literary magazine, The Bluestone Review.

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com.

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Car Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Apr 12, 2022

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The Short of It

  • Insurance company adjusters review several pieces of information to determine who is at fault after an auto accident
  • The company may find you entirely at fault, partially at fault, or not at fault after a crash
  • State laws will influence when you can pursue compensation and how much you can receive after a car accident

If you’re involved in a car accident, you might be convinced the other driver is to blame. However, that person might believe the same thing about you. How is auto accident fault determined then? 

It’s a tricky process, and it involves several pieces of information. After an accident, car insurance companies send adjusters to examine the crash evidence, police reports, and witness statements to determine who is at fault. 

This article will focus on the information insurance companies use to assign blame after an accident. We’ll examine how fault is determined in different states, and we’ll explain the steps you should take following a car crash. 

How Auto Accident Fault Is Determined Based on State Liability Laws

After a car accident, insurance company adjusters determine fault based on physical crash evidence, police reports, and witness statements. 

The insurance company will assign percentages of fault based on their findings. The insurer may find you fully at fault, partially at fault, or not at fault. 

State laws are influential in determining fault and the resulting compensation after a crash. Generally, there are three types of negligence systems that states may adopt.

Comparative Fault System

In states with comparative fault systems, each driver receives a share of the blame based on the insurance company’s findings. The company makes this decision based on how much they believe each driver contributed to the accident.

The company may find you minimally responsible or entirely at fault. For example, if a driver cuts you off and then slams on their brakes, causing you to rear-end them, the company might find you 15% at fault for following too close. However, the other driver is found 85% at fault for reckless driving. 

In comparative fault states, you may pursue compensation from the other driver only up to the percentage of your total losses that equal their percentage of fault. Continuing with the previous example, this would entitle you to seek 85% of your compensation from the other driver. 

Modified Comparative System

States with modified comparative negligence systems operate similarly to states with comparative laws. 

The difference here is that these states do not allow drivers to seek compensation if their share of fault is greater than a certain percentage, typically 50% or 51%. 

Contributory Negligence System

The third type of negligence system found in the U.S. is contributory negligence. 

States with contributory negligence laws do not allow drivers to pursue compensation if they are found to be responsible for the accident in any way. 

Even if the company determines you to be 1% responsible for the crash, you will not be allowed to pursue compensation from the other party. 

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Auto Accident Fault in Personal Injury Protection States

In addition to liability insurance, many states require drivers to purchase a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP). 

If you’re in an accident in a state with PIP laws, you must first file a claim with your insurance company, regardless of who is at fault. 

Only after your insurance company pays you the maximum amount covered by your plan may you seek compensation from the other driver. 

Even if your state doesn’t mandate PIP insurance, it’s still a practical coverage option that you might want to consider. 

PIP insurance claims do not adversely affect car insurance rates, unlike claims on your primary auto coverage policy. If the insurance company determines that you are the at-fault party, you can use your PIP benefits without risking an increase in your monthly payments. 

What To Do After an Auto Accident

If you are involved in an auto accident, you must follow the proper steps. Failing to do so could result in you receiving less compensation than you deserve or experiencing a prolonged claims process.

If you’re in a car crash, follow these essential steps:

  • File a police report. Even if you think it’s unnecessary, you need to protect yourself by creating a record of what happened. The police will record this information, and your insurance company will review it when determining fault.
  • Record evidence. After the crash, take as many photos and videos of the damage and crash site as possible. Note any skid marks, traffic signs, and vehicle or property damage that might be helpful when determining fault.
  • Do not implicate or incriminate yourself. After the crash, do not apologize or admit fault. Answer the questions of the insurer and the police, but do not admit guilt.
  • File a claim. The next step is to file a claim with your insurance company. Do this as soon as possible to avoid delaying your compensation.
  • Keep records. As you navigate the claims process after an accident, continue to keep a detailed history of who you talk to, any medical treatments you seek, and all losses related to the crash. 

Following these steps is essential to ensure that you get the payment you deserve after a crash. 

If you believe the insurance company unfairly blames you for an accident, pursuing legal advice is the best next step. 

Will your insurance rates increase after an auto accident?

If the insurance company determines you to be at fault after an auto accident, your insurance rates may increase. And, if you’ve had several accidents, the insurance company might classify you as a high-risk driver. However, this is not always the case.

Many companies offer accident forgiveness programs and other special features designed to prevent your rates from increasing after a crash. 

You may also be eligible for programs that will help you lower your payments after an accident, such as defensive driving and driver safety courses. 

Insurance companies will consider various factors after an accident when deciding whether to raise your rates. They will examine the details of your coverage plan, your driving history, and the cost of your claim.

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How Auto Accident Fault Is Determined in a Nutshell

After an auto accident, your insurance company will send an adjuster to determine who is at fault based on several pieces of information.

The company will look at police reports, crash evidence, and witness statements to determine who is at fault. They will use this information to assign percentages of blame to each party involved in the accident. You could be found entirely at fault, partially at fault, or not at fault.

Laws differ by state, but there are generally three types of negligence systems. 

In comparative fault states, each driver receives a share of the blame. You may pursue compensation from the other party, but only up to their percentage of fault. 

Modified comparative fault states operate similarly. The critical difference is that drivers may not pursue compensation if their liability is determined to be greater than a specific percentage, usually 50%. 

In contributory negligence states, you may not pursue compensation from the other party if you are found to be even 1% at fault. 

Some states have personal injury protection (PIP) laws. In these states, you must file a claim with your insurance company before seeking compensation from the other driver. Only after your insurer has paid may you pursue damages from the other party. 

If the insurance company finds you at fault, your auto insurance rates might increase. However, this is not always the case, and there are often steps you can take to minimize the increase. Ask your insurer about accident forgiveness programs or defensive driving courses to lower your rates.

Remember, if you’re in an auto accident, follow the steps above to ensure that you’re fairly and quickly compensated.