Following a car accident, especially if you’ve never been in one before, the situation can be overwhelming.
There are many things you’ll have to get done, including getting in touch with insurance to determine your coverage.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in many cases, especially if you weren’t at fault. When you’re not at fault in a car accident, it can be more complex, as counterintuitive as that sounds.
The following are things to know as far as comparing what happens in an at-fault accident versus one where you’re not-at-fault.
What Does No-Fault Mean?
There are two general types of vehicle accidents in the eyes of an insurance company, which are at-fault and no-fault. No-fault means you weren’t responsible for the accident, and at-fault means you caused it.
Insurance companies use these fault determinations to decide which driver caused the crash and which driver’s insurance is subsequently responsible for compensation.
Every state has its own rules as far as fault determination.
Some states are fault, and others are no-fault, which in this situation has its own meaning as well. Where you live or where an accident occurs will affect your claim process and the type of insurance you’re required to have.
Currently, 12 states are no-fault, and the other 38 are fault.
In a no-fault state, your insurance covers your medical expenses and property damage to your vehicle, no matter who caused the accident. If you live in a fault state, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is required to compensate the other driver for whatever their losses might be.
If you live in a no-fault state, you’re required to have Personal Injury Protection Insurance or PIP. PIP pays for losses after an accident. If you live in a fault state, you’re not required to have this type of coverage, but some consumers will buy it as an add-on to their policy.
Types of Negligence
If you live in a fault state, then there is a term to be aware of, which is negligence. Negligence indicates fault as far as insurance goes. If you’re found to be negligent in a collision, then you’re at fault.
There are three categories of negligence: pure contributory, pure comparative, and modified comparative.
- Pure contributory negligence means that the insurance company reimburses a driver only if they’re entirely without blame for the accident. If the other driver played even a small role in the accident, they aren’t eligible to receive insurance compensation. There are four states in the U.S. as well as the District of Columbia following this negligence standard.
- Pure comparative negligence bases an insurance payout on a percentage of fault. Twelve states use this, three of which are no-fault states. It’s challenging to determine the exact percentage of fault someone’s responsible for in a collision
- Modified comparative negligence considers how much of an accident was a driver’s fault, but there’s usually a threshold of 50% or 51%. Over 30 states follow the modified comparative negligence model.
With fault being such an integral part of the insurance claims process, you may be wondering how it’s determined. It’s not easy, and it’s not an exact science. Some of the factors that are relevant to fault include:
- Police reports are one of the primary pieces of evidence used to determine fault. Police will usually respond to the scene of an accident, at which point they create a report. The report contains their analysis of what happened, and they will include who they believe is at fault, as well as whether any drugs or alcohol were involved.
- State traffic laws are relevant, and they are often complicated and nuanced.
- When insurance adjusters are conducting their investigation, they’ll look at medical reports, talk to witnesses and examine damage to vehicles. Adjustors are the ultimate deciders of who’s at fault, and they can sometimes assign a percentage of fault to all involved drivers.
Does a No-Fault Accident Affect Insurance Rates?
Typically, if you’re in an accident but you’re not at fault, it shouldn’t cause your insurance rates to go up. That’s because depending on where you live, the at-fault driver’s insurance is responsible for compensating you for medical costs and property damage. If your insurance company doesn’t have to pay for your claim, they shouldn’t raise your rates.
However, if you have a history of claims, it’s possible you could pay more.
A no-fault accident will also be on your driving record, usually for anywhere from three to five years.
What If You’re At-Fault?
If you’re at fault in an accident, then as has been touched on, what happens next depends on the state where you live and your insurance coverage.
If you’re in a fault state, then it’s possible that if you’re at fault, a personal injury lawsuit could be brought against you. Many people don’t have enough liability coverage for a catastrophic injury claim, so this is something you might want to talk with an insurance agent about.
Depending on the situation, if you’re at fault, the other driver might submit a claim to their own insurance company under their collision coverage. The insurer would still likely come to your insurance company for reimbursement. You might not personally be responsible for damages, but your premiums are pretty likely going to go up when your policy removes.
If you received a citation for a moving violation related to the crash, like distracted driving, points are added to your driving record.
If you’re ever in an accident, even if you think it’s your fault, don’t say that and don’t apologize. Stay polite but don’t say anything you don’t have to.
Fault is often not as clear-cut as you might think, and you don’t want to say anything at the scene that could be problematic for you later. Wait for the police reports and the determinations of an insurance adjuster, rather than trying to decide yourself at the time of the accident who’s at fault.
There might be eyewitnesses who saw the other driving speed, or maybe video footage that you didn’t see, and these factors will affect your claim.