What Is an At-Fault Accident?

What You Need to Know About At-Fault Accidents in Less Than 5 Minutes

Woman on cell phone at car accident scene
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Whether you're "at fault" in an accident will decide whether you (or your insurance company) will be the one to pay for damages.

You don't have to get a ticket from the police for your insurance company to decide that you are at fault. In fact, it's more than likely that you are at fault if you're in a crash that has only one car involved.

In any case, being the one at fault in an accident will often affect your auto insurance rates.

What Does "At Fault" Mean?

An "at fault" accident is one that's caused by a driver. This can be either through some action they took or because they failed to take an action.

You can still be the one at fault even if the police or your insurance company divide the blame 51% to you and 49% to the other party.

Examples of At-Fault Accidents

Some types of accidents are pretty cut and dry in terms of liability and fault.

Rear-Ending Another Car

You might have been driving too aggressively or following too closely if you hit the back of the car in front of you. Insurance companies will often assume that fault is yours if this happens.

Driving Under the Influence

It will cast a lot of doubt on any statement you make about your accident if you were driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) at the time. Drunk driving is such a risky practice that it will cause most insurance companies will raise your rates right away.

If you receive a DWI or DUI, your license can be suspended in 42 states as well.

If you receive a DWI or DUI, it might even be legal for your insurance company to refuse to make payment for your injuries.

Not Obeying Traffic Signals

If you don't follow traffic signals, signs, or directives, it is known as a moving violation. There are many kinds, such as:

  • Going through a red light
  • Failure to yield
  • Rolling through stop signs
  • Driving the wrong way down a one-way street

Your insurance company will assume that you are to blame if you ignore traffic signs or signals and then crash. These types of violations can also result in points being added to your license.

More points can result in higher insurance costs as well.

Using a Cell Phone While Driving

Using your phone while driving isn't against the law in all states. Texting while driving, though, is banned in 47 states.

Being on your phone doesn't always mean that you were at fault if an accident happens. But you should be truthful when telling police what you were doing when you crashed.

Distracted driving is a big red flag for insurance companies. You can probably count on your insurance rates going up if you're ticketed for texting and driving. Your rates will also increase if you cause a crash or fender bender because you were on your phone.

How Does At-Fault Accident Insurance Work?

Insurance companies decide who's at fault in an accident by relying on the legal concept of negligence. This means that you failed to act in a way that a reasonable person would act when faced with the same situation.

Your insurance company might use "comparative negligence" to assign a percentage of fault to each driver involved in the accident. Or, it might assign "contributory negligence." This means that the payout you receive could go down based on how much your actions contributed to the incident.

Each state is different, but insurance is fault-based in most states. States in which this is the case are also known as "tort" states.

In tort states, the insurance company of the at-fault driver pays the bill for repairs, medical expenses, and other costs. Medical costs for the insured person are paid by their insurance company (up to a certain amount) in no-fault states. Property damage is covered by the at-fault driver's insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • An at-fault accident is one where the driver made some action—or failed to take an action—that caused the incident.
  • At-fault actions can include drunk driving, texting while driving, or ignoring traffic signs and warnings.
  • Car insurance companies in most states will consider fault when paying out claims.

What to Do If You're in an At-Fault Accident

The best way to avoid being at fault is to obey the law and drive safely. You may, though, still be found at fault sometimes. You may make a choice in a split second that ends up being the wrong one.

The best thing to do if you are in a crash or fender bender is to not admit fault at the scene of the crash. Take photos of the damage, exchange insurance information, and wait for the police to show up.

Then, give a truthful account of what happened. The insurance adjuster will review your side of the story, the police report, the other party's version of events, and the damage done. After that, they will decide who is at fault.

The kind of insurance you have will play a big part in what happens next if you're found to be at fault. Bodily injury liability will help pay the medical expenses for you, any other people in your car, and the other driver. Collision coverage pays to repair the car.

Make sure you understand your state's minimum car insurance requirements. You will want to have at least full coverage for personal liability and property damage liability if you're found to be at fault.

If your insurance doesn't cover the damage to people or property when you cause an accident, you can be sued for the extra costs.

Sometimes you can't avoid an accident. When this happens, your insurance rates will often rise. But there are steps you can take to avoid being the cause of a crash.

Put your phone away while driving. Avoid using alcohol or drugs that may impair how well you drive. Obey all the legal and safety rules of the road.