How Does the Insurance Determine Who is at Fault in a Car Accident?

How Does the Insurance Determine Who is at Fault in a Car Accident?

As a driver, you hope to never experience a car accident, but unfortunately, collisions happen. When they do, determining who is at fault can be a stressful process, especially if the other driver's insurance company is involved. Their goal is to minimize how much they pay out, even if it means denying your valid claim. However, insurance companies follow a systematic process to investigate accidents and determine liability. Understanding this process can help ensure you receive fair compensation.

Understanding Fault in a Car Accident

To determine fault in a car accident, insurance companies investigate the details of the incident. They consider several factors:

The Police Report

The official police report provides important details about the circumstances of the accident, including statements from the drivers and witnesses. The insurance company will analyze the police report to identify any traffic violations or errors that contributed to the accident.

Statements From Drivers and Witnesses

Insurance adjusters will interview the drivers and any witnesses to the accident. They will look for inconsistencies between statements that could indicate one driver was at fault. Adjusters also consider the credibility and objectivity of the witnesses. Credible, independent witnesses carry more weight.

Traffic Laws and Signage

The insurance company will evaluate if all drivers followed the relevant traffic laws and signage. Failure to stop at a stop sign or red light, improper turning, speeding, or reckless driving that caused the accident will typically result in fault being assigned to that driver.

Vehicle Damage and Injuries

The severity of damage and injuries can also be a factor in determining fault. For example, if one vehicle has significantly more damage than the others, it may indicate that driver was traveling at an unsafe speed or made an improper maneuver that caused the accident. However, damage alone does not definitively prove fault.

By thoroughly investigating the details of the incident, insurance companies are able to make a fair determination of fault based on factual evidence. While it may not always be straightforward, the goal is to find the sequence of events that most likely led to the accident so that responsibility can be properly assigned.

Police Report and Eyewitness Statements

The insurance company will review the official police report and any eyewitness statements to determine who is most likely at fault in the accident.

The police report will note details like the locations of the vehicles after the accident, any traffic signals or signs at the intersection, the apparent cause of the accident according to the officers on the scene, and whether any drivers received citations. Eyewitness statements provide another perspective on the events leading up to and during the accident. The insurance company will consider all available information to assess which driver failed to exercise reasonable care and caution, violating the rules of the road.

If fault can be clearly attributed to one driver based on these objective facts, their insurance provider will likely be responsible for covering damages and injuries. However, in some cases fault may be shared between the drivers or remain undetermined. The insurance companies will then negotiate to distribute costs and payouts proportionally based on the percentage of fault assigned to each policyholder.

Drivers should report any car accident to the police as soon as possible and gather contact information for any eyewitnesses. Details tend to become less clear over time, so early reporting and statements are critical for the insurance companies to make an accurate liability decision. While it can be an uncomfortable situation, cooperating fully with the insurance investigation and providing a clear account of events will help expedite the claims process.

With a comprehensive police report, eyewitness statements, and driver testimonies, insurance providers can confidently determine fault and ensure costs are covered by the appropriate policies. Accidents happen, but by following the rules of the road and exercising caution, drivers can do their part to prevent collisions in the first place.

Location of Damage on Vehicles

The location of damage on the vehicles involved in an accident plays an important role in determining fault. Insurance companies will inspect the points of impact and crumple zones to help determine which vehicle struck the other.

Front or rear damage

If there is damage to the front of one vehicle and the rear of the other, it is usually clear that one vehicle struck the other from behind. The driver of the vehicle with front-end damage is typically considered at fault in these situations, as they were likely following too closely or not paying adequate attention. Conversely, if there is damage to the rear of both vehicles, the vehicle in back is customarily deemed responsible.

Sideswipe damage

Sideswipe damage, where the sides of both vehicles are damaged, can be more difficult to assess. The insurance companies will analyze the severity and height of the damage on each vehicle to deduce which one encroached into the other’s lane. The vehicle with damage concentrated on one side, at roughly the same height, is commonly considered at fault for failing to yield the right of way. However, if the damage is more evenly distributed on both sides or at different heights, fault may be shared or indeterminate.

Damage to the front corner and middle

Damage to the front corner and side middle of one vehicle and the rear corner and middle of the other frequently signifies that one vehicle turned or changed lanes in front of the other. The vehicle with front-end damage is usually deemed predominantly at fault in this scenario. The insurance companies will also evaluate any witness statements, traffic cameras, or police reports to help establish liability.

In summary, the location, severity, and type of damage to the vehicles involved in an accident provide critical clues to help determine fault and liability. By thoroughly examining the damage and taking other evidence into account, the insurance companies can typically make a fair judgment on which driver is responsible, even if the situation is not straightforward.

Statements From Drivers and Passengers

Statements from the drivers and any passengers involved in the accident provide crucial information for insurance companies to determine fault. As an insured driver, it is in your best interest to provide an official statement to your insurance provider as soon as possible after an accident.

Driver Statements

Describing the events leading up to and during the accident in your own words helps create an accurate record of what transpired. Be specific about details like the time of day, weather conditions, traffic levels and the sequence of events. Explain any defensive driving techniques you employed to avoid the collision. Be truthful in your account, as any discrepancies between your statement and other evidence could raise questions about your credibility and liability.

Passenger Statements

If you had any passengers in your vehicle, request that they also provide a written statement to your insurance company. Passengers can provide an impartial third-party account of the accident to corroborate your statement. Their testimony, especially regarding the other driver’s actions or inactions, may help reinforce your lack of fault in the incident. Ask passengers to be as detailed as possible in their statements.

Additional Evidence

In addition to statements, provide any other evidence you may have to support your account of events, such as:

  • Photos or videos of the accident scene, vehicle damage or traffic conditions.
  • Contact information for any witnesses who can verify your statement. Witness testimony from unbiased bystanders carries significant weight.
  • Police or accident report. Official reports can substantiate conditions at the time of the accident and initial determinations of fault.
  • Medical reports. Documentation of any injuries sustained can underscore the seriousness of the accident and validate your statement.

Providing a comprehensive set of information to your insurance provider, including your detailed statement and any available evidence, is the best approach for demonstrating you were not at fault in the accident. The more evidence on your side, the harder it is for other parties to dispute your statement and blame you for the incident. Compiling this information promptly also allows your insurance company to handle claims and negotiations in an efficient manner on your behalf.

Dashcam and Surveillance Footage

Dashcam and surveillance footage are increasingly being used to determine who is at fault in vehicle accidents. Insurance companies will review any available footage to gain a clear understanding of how the incident unfolded and which driver was primarily responsible.

Dashcam Footage

Many drivers now use dashboard cameras, or “dashcams,” to continuously record video while driving. This footage can provide visual evidence to confirm each driver's account of what transpired during an accident. The video may show the exact sequence of events, the positions and movements of all vehicles involved, traffic signals or signs that were obeyed or violated, and other details to determine fault.

If only one vehicle has a dashcam, the footage from that camera will still be reviewed but may not provide a complete picture of the incident. The insurance company will consider the available footage along with statements from both drivers, police reports, and any additional evidence submitted.

Surveillance Cameras

Public roadways and intersections are often monitored by security cameras. Insurance companies may request access to any footage that captured the accident to review the events leading up to and following the collision. As with dashcam footage, surveillance video can provide concrete evidence of traffic violations or irresponsible driving by either party.

Even if no camera footage is available, insurance companies have extensive experience determining fault based on the specifics of the accident, statements from drivers and witnesses, police reports, photographs of the scene, and vehicle damage. While camera footage can be extremely helpful, insurance claims adjusters are skilled at evaluating all available information to make an accurate determination.

The advent of dashcams and surveillance cameras has made the fault determination process more transparent and data-driven. Video evidence, when available, allows insurance companies to make fair, impartial judgments based on the actual events of the accident rather than relying solely on statements which may be contradictory or self-serving. Overall, camera footage helps ensure that fault is assigned properly and claims are handled accurately.

Traffic Signs, Signals, and Road Conditions

When determining fault in an auto accident, insurance companies will evaluate the actions of the drivers involved, as well as any traffic signs, signals or road conditions that may have contributed.

Traffic Signals

If a driver runs a red light or stop sign, they will typically be found predominantly or fully at fault. Failure to obey traffic signals indicates a disregard for the rules of the road and a lack of safe driving practices. Likewise, if a driver fails to yield when making a left turn at an intersection with a solid green light, they can be deemed primarily at fault.

Traffic Signs

Drivers are expected to follow all posted traffic signs to promote road safety. Disregarding signs like “Yield,” “Do Not Enter,” or “Wrong Way” will generally make a driver principally at fault in the event of an accident. Failing to heed warning signs indicating an upcoming stop, curve, or other road hazard can also be a sign of negligent driving and a contributing factor in an insurance company’s determination of fault.

Road Conditions

Adverse road conditions like heavy rain, snow, or fog can obscure visibility and make driving more difficult. However, drivers are still expected to exercise caution and adjust their driving to account for these conditions. Excessive speed, sudden braking or turning, or other reckless actions can demonstrate a lack of care for the conditions. While the conditions themselves may have been a factor, a driver’s poor decision making or loss of control can lead to a majority or full fault finding.

In summary, obeying traffic controls, adhering to warning signs, driving cautiously for conditions, and operating a vehicle in a prudent manner are all factors insurance companies weigh heavily when apportioning fault for an auto accident. Failure in any of these areas will likely impact the liability determination negatively for a driver. By evaluating the actions and decisions of all parties involved, insurance carriers aim to make a fair and fact-based assessment of fault.

Determining if a Driver Was Distracted

Determining fault in an accident often comes down to one key factor: driver distraction. Insurance companies will investigate the possibility that either driver involved in the collision was distracted while operating their vehicle. There are several forms of distraction that can impair a driver and lead to an at-fault finding:

Mobile Device Usage

Using a mobile phone, smartphone or other electronic device while driving diverts the driver's attention from the road and is illegal in many places. If phone records or eyewitness accounts indicate a driver was texting, talking on the phone or otherwise engaged with a mobile device at the time of the accident, they will likely be found primarily at fault.

Eating or Drinking

Consuming food, beverages or alcohol while driving also qualifies as a dangerous distraction. If empty food or drink containers are found in the vehicle after an accident, or a driver appears intoxicated, the insurance company may determine they were distracted and caused the collision.

Adjusting Controls

Fiddling with entertainment or navigation systems, or adjusting accessories like mirrors and seat positions while driving is extremely dangerous and can take a driver's attention away from the road for several critical seconds. Evidence that a driver was adjusting controls or other accessories at the time of impact will point to them being at fault.


Drowsy or fatigued driving is another form of distraction that impairs driving ability. If a driver's fatigue or inattentiveness due to lack of sleep contributed to the accident, the insurance company may find them primarily responsible. Signs like drifting in and out of traffic lanes, slowed reaction times and impaired decision making point to a fatigued driver.

In summary, most at-fault determinations come down to evidence that a driver was somehow distracted and not fully focused on the road at the time of an accident. Keeping your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on the task of driving is the best way to avoid being found at fault should an accident occur. Remaining attentive and avoiding all forms of distraction is the responsibility of every driver.

Investigating Mechanical Failures

When determining fault in a car accident involving mechanical failure, the insurance companies will conduct a thorough investigation. They will analyze several factors to determine the cause of the failure and who is responsible.

Vehicle Maintenance Records

The insurance investigators will review vehicle maintenance records to check if the required services were performed. Lack of proper maintenance can lead to part failures and malfunctions, so if records show that routine servicing was neglected, it may point to the driver being partially or fully at-fault. They will look for evidence that oil changes, tune-ups, tire rotations, brake checks, and other recommended maintenance were done according to the manufacturer's suggested schedule.

Part Recalls

The investigators will also research whether any parts involved in the accident were subject to a manufacturer's recall that had not yet been addressed. Unrepaired recalls can directly contribute to system or part failures, in which case the owner may be deemed partially or fully liable for the accident. The records of recalls and technical service bulletins for the specific vehicle make, model, and year will be thoroughly checked.

Eyewitness Statements

In some cases, eyewitness statements from those who witnessed the accident or the events leading up to it may provide details about the mechanical failure. Witnesses may be able to describe sounds, signs of malfunction, steering or braking difficulties that point to a part defect or lack of maintenance as a contributing factor. Their statements will be carefully reviewed to gain as much insight as possible into the cause of the failure.

Expert Inspections

When necessary, an expert vehicle inspector or technician may be called in to examine the vehicle directly. They can inspect the failed parts, check for signs of lack of maintenance or repair, and determine whether the failure could have reasonably been prevented. Their findings, along with the other evidence collected, will factor heavily into the final determination of fault and liability.

By thoroughly investigating these elements, the insurance companies can get a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding a mechanical failure and decide appropriately whether the owner, another driver, or other parties should be held responsible for damages. Proper vehicle maintenance and repair are essential to road safety, so failures that could have been prevented may impact judgments of fault. Comprehensive investigations aim to determine whether such preventative measures were reasonably taken to avoid system or part malfunctions.

Comparative Negligence: When Both Drivers Are Partially at Fault

When determining fault in a car accident, insurance companies will consider the concept of comparative negligence. This means that both drivers can be partially at fault, with liability and compensation divided proportionally based on the degree of negligence of each party.

Assessing Comparative Negligence

To determine comparative negligence, insurance adjusters will investigate the details of the accident to assign a percentage of fault to each driver based on:

  • The actions of each driver leading up to and during the collision. For example, one driver speeding or running a red light, the other driver distracted or tailgating.
  • Any traffic law violations by either party. Failure to yield, improper turning, etc.
  • The credibility and consistency of statements from the drivers, passengers, and any witnesses. Contradictory or changing statements can damage a driver's case.
  • The police report and officer's assessment of fault. While not definitive, a police report can influence an insurance company's determination.
  • Photographs, surveillance footage, and diagrams of the accident scene. Visual evidence provides valuable context for understanding how the events unfolded.
  • The severity of vehicle damage. Greater damage to one vehicle may indicate higher negligence, though not always definitively. Many other factors are considered.

Once fault has been assessed, the insurance companies can determine payouts and settlements based on the proportional fault of each driver. For example, if one driver is deemed 60% at fault and the other 40%, the 60% at-fault driver's insurance may cover 60% of the total costs, while the other covers 40%. The precise way damages and liability are divided depends on the state and specific insurance policies involved.

Comparative negligence aims to create a fair outcome when multiple parties are partially responsible for an accident. While the process can be complex, insurance companies thoroughly investigate to make the most equitable determination of fault based on the details of the collision.


In the end, determining fault in a car accident comes down to gathering evidence and statements to piece together what happened. While it can be a tedious process, cooperating fully with your insurance provider and providing any details about the events leading up to the accident will help ensure an accurate assessment of liability. Although you may feel distressed in the aftermath of a collision, remaining calm and seeking assistance from lawyers at Fletcher Law will allow you to give a clear account of the situation. With time and patience, the insurance companies involved will review the evidence, consider the accounts from all parties, and come to a fair determination of fault based on the facts of the incident.