Determining who was at fault is critical after a car accident for insurance, legal, and other purposes. Under the law, one driver’s word is not any better than the other driver’s when determining fault.
So how does one go about proving fault in an accident when their word is not enough? This post will cover the strategies a personal injury lawyer could use to do so.
Witnesses are crucial when building a case in an accident victim’s favor. Whiles witnesses can be occupants of the car involved in the accident; they are perceived as more credible when not.
There are often bystanders who witness an accident or come to an accident victim’s aid. If you are not hurt in the accident, try to talk to witnesses and bystanders. Some may come to you voluntarily. Get their names, contact information, and statements. Perhaps even take a video of them explaining what they saw.
Your lawyer will use these valuable witnesses to build your case, whether negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company or in court. The stronger the evidence, the more likely an insurance company will be willing to settle the case for a fair amount.
Photos and Videos
If you are able, use your cell phone to take photos and videos of the accident scene. Capture the location of the vehicles, strewn parts, damage to all cars involved, passenger injuries, road conditions, weather conditions, damage to stationary objects such as trees and guard rails, and any other pertinent images.
Photos and videos are extraordinary evidence. A lawyer will use yours or, if not available, will try to find photos and videos shot by bystanders.
Police on the scene will note what all drivers say took place. It is always important to answer police questions, but there is no reason to overshare. State what you know but do not admit any degree of guilt or responsibility. Anything you say will become an official record and be held against you later. A lawyer will use police reports, which often include diagrams, sketches, and photos, to piece together what happened.
Lawyers will often hire independent investigators or accident reconstruction experts to analyze existing evidence and do their own investigations to determine fault. Your lawyer could then present the expert’s report to the other driver’s insurance company as part of a settlement demand. If the insurance company refuses to settle a claim fairly, the expert may also end up testifying in court.
A lawyer will search for footage that may have captured the accident, such as from a red light or nearby surveillance camera. More and more businesses are installing security cameras that are invaluable in solving crimes and reconstructing accidents.
Cellphone records can show if a driver was on their phone – talking or texting – at the time of the accident. Knowing this information can be crucial in proving fault. Cellphone use is a top cause of accidents caused by distracted drivers. If a distracted driver caused your accident, your lawyer would work to verify that through cellphone records and many other means.
Black Box Information
Vehicles have electronic data recorders that can provide invaluable information after an accident. Typical black boxes record data for up to 20 seconds before and after an accident, including:
- Airbag deployment
- Brake application
- Position of the throttle
- Seatbelt use
- Steering angles
- Vehicle speed
Black box information gives invaluable insight into how the driver operated the vehicle just before the crash. It is routinely used as valuable evidence in insurance negotiations and litigation.
If a law enforcement officer suspects alcohol or drug use is involved at the scene of a car accident, they will most likely ask a driver to perform field sobriety tests and undergo a breathalyzer exam. If a driver is charged or sent to the hospital, blood and urine tests are routine for determining alcohol or drug use.
Impaired driving is one of the top causes of accidents nationwide. Your lawyer can help ensure you are justly compensated for the damages and injuries drunk driving can cause.
A driver must be credible to be believable, especially in front of a police officer, judge, or jury. Some of the following factors can influence a person’s credibility:
- Their demeanor, body language, and attitude
- Whether their trial testimony is consistent with past testimony or statements (such as those given a police officer about the accident)
- Past criminal record/driving record
- Plausibility of their version of events
- Believability or body language and expressions that hint at lying
How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident Case?
Determining who was at fault for a car accident will play an essential role in your ability to recover fair compensation.
In New Jersey, a person will typically file a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claim with their insurance provider. PIP provides coverage for medical expenses up to your policy limits. Drivers can also buy PIP coverage for other losses and costs such as:
- Loss of wages due to injuries.
- Services you would perform if not for your injuries (such as housework, lawn care, childcare).
- Death benefits and funeral costs if a loved one dies.
PIP benefits are payable regardless of who was at fault in the accident, but if you want to recover compensation beyond what PIP provides, you will need to have a lawyer establish the other party’s fault.
In New Jersey, you can always sue another party for economic damages, such as loss of income and past and future medical expenses, but your ability to sue for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, will depend on the type of auto insurance policy you have.
Allocation of fault is essential in an accident. New Jersey follows a modified comparative fault scheme. This means that if you are more than 50 percent at fault for an accident, you cannot recover any damages. If you are less than 50 percent at fault, you can recover compensation that is reduced by your percentage of fault for the accident. For example, if you are 25 percent at fault, your recovery amount is reduced by 25 percent.
A good rule of thumb is never to accept an insurance company’s conclusion about who was at fault. It is best to let a lawyer conduct a full investigation and negotiate with the insurer.
It is worth noting that negligence per se is the rule under New Jersey law. This means that proving that a driver engaged in specific misconduct can establish fault as a matter of law. For example, evidence that a driver was drunk at the time of the accident creates a presumption of guilt.
In some cases, the fault for a crash can lie with a third party and not either of the drivers. For example, if a car or a car part is defective and caused the collision, the manufacturer could be held liable. Same with a mechanic who made shoddy repairs. Even a government entity that failed to maintain a roadway could potentially be at fault.
Determination of fault is essential in a New Jersey car accident lawsuit. Do not leave that determination to an insurance company.
What is “Negligence” in a Car Accident?
As discussed, a personal injury claim in a car accident will involve proving the at-fault party’s negligence. You and your lawyer must establish the following components to both prove negligence and receive compensation in a personal injury case:
- The defendant had a duty of care to you
- The defendant breached their duty of care
- That breach caused the accident and injury
- Your injuries resulted in loss
The key takeaway is that proving fault is not an easy task. An experienced car accident lawyer knows how to build a strong case with evidence, expert testimony, and skillful presentation, so let them do the work.
The Monmouth County Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Victims of Negligent Drivers
If you or a loved one is injured in a vehicle accident caused by a negligent driver, contact the Monmouth County car accident lawyers at Ellis Law. They know how to prove fault when it is your word against the other driver’s. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. From our office in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.