Every time you get behind the wheel, you are obligated to drive in a way that will protect yourself, as well as the other drivers around you. Regardless of your state’s specific roadway laws, this is a general statute called the duty of care.
In short, it states that all drivers are required to operate their vehicles responsibly, taking into account certain conditions such as speed, traffic, visibility, and weather.
Still, accidents happen.
If you’re involved in a collision, proving fault is of chief importance. The laws differ in a no-fault accident state vs. an at-fault state.
Most drivers don’t think too much about the accident fault laws in their states until it’s time to put them into practice. Today, we’re breaking down everything you need to know.
Why Should You Prove Fault in an Auto Accident Case?
When a car accident occurs, the injured party will typically try to seek compensation from the other driver’s insurance company. They can use this money to cover the cost of their medical care, as well as to repair any property damage that might have occurred to their vehicle.
To receive this compensation, you will have to be able to prove that the other driver acted in a way that caused the wreck. Otherwise, the insurance company could deny your claim. The other driver could even take you to court.
In most situations, auto accidents are covered by negligence laws. This means that you’ll have to provide evidence that the other driver’s negligence (carelessness) caused the accident. In some states, your damages could be reduced if you share even a small amount of the blame.
Instead of trying to accumulate this evidence yourself, it’s always better to let an auto accident lawyer take the reins. An attorney will know exactly what type of proof you need, and where to find it. They can also bring in other resources, such as accident reconstruction experts, to help prove instances of negligence.
What Is a No-Fault Accident?
When a car accident occurs, there’s at least some degree of fault present. That’s why it can be confusing to learn that some states in the U.S. are designated as no-fault accident states, while others are considered at-fault states.
In a no-fault accident state, each driver is required to carry a type of insurance policy known as personal injury protection (PIP). If they’re involved in an accident, that PIP coverage kicks in. It will be used to cover their own personal medical costs, as well as any lost wages they may incur as they recover.
This PIP coverage and payment is extended to the driver regardless of whether he or she caused the accident or not. Yet, this does not mean that fault is arbitrary or that it doesn’t matter.
Rather, PIP coverage only applies to the driver’s personal injuries. The driver who’s at fault for the accident will still have to pay for any property damages they may have inflicted on the other driver. This includes car repairs, body shop work, and other services required to get the vehicle back to its pre-accident state.
This payment will come out of pocket, or the at-fault driver can use their liability insurance to cover the costs.
The following 12 states follow no-fault accident laws:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
In addition, Puerto Rico is also considered a no-fault territory. Of these, all but three follow a mandatory no-fault car insurance requirement. This means that all drivers must carry this coverage and must turn to it first if they are injured in a car accident.
On the other hand, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia follow what’s known as a “hybrid” or “choice no-fault” system. This means that when you’re ready to purchase an auto insurance policy, you have two options:
- Be insured under a no-fault system
- Be insured under a more traditional liability-based system
If you choose the latter, then you might be able to make the switch to no-fault insurance before filing your official claim after the accident.
You can usually add optional PIP coverage in any state.
This includes states like Delaware and Oregon, which are typically considered at-fault insurance states. Here, drivers are required to purchase no-fault coverage as an add-on to their car insurance policy. However, there are no limits on a claimant’s options when it comes to holding a negligent driver financially responsible for accident-related damages.
Understanding No-Fault Insurance
Most states in the U.S. require that all individuals have the required minimum car insurance before they can legally drive. While all policies usually include bodily injury liability and property damage liability, no-fault insurance policies add additional PIP coverage.
If the accident occurred in an at-fault state, the next steps would be relatively simple. You’d submit a claim to the negligent driver’s insurance company to cover your medical costs, as well as your property damage.
However, it works a little differently in a no-fault state.
Here, you’ll reach out to your insurer to cover your medical expenses, regardless of which driver was ultimately responsible for causing the crash. Your PIP coverage will help cover those costs, as well as other related expenses, including:
- Any income that you’ve lost (up to a certain limit) due to your inability to work after the accident
- The cost of hiring replacement services as you recover (e.g. housekeeper, personal driver)
- Any burial or funeral costs incurred if the accident resulted in a death
This coverage will extend up to your designated PIP policy limits. What’s the purpose of a policy like this? In short, it saves both time and money.
The car accident claims process can be expensive and drawn-out, and applying PIP coverage helps impacted drivers skip at least a portion of it. If they require medical care after the crash, it also allows them to seek (and pay for) that treatment as quickly as possible.
In addition, PIP coverage helps prevent a car accident claim from turning into a lawsuit. In most cases, PIP will pay right away, regardless of who was at fault for the collision. This makes it much less likely that one party will take their claim to court.
What Is an At-Fault Accident?
While those 12 states follow no-fault accident laws, the remaining 38 states are known as at-fault accident states. These states are also known as tort states.
In a tort state, the driver who is at fault for causing the car crash is the one responsible for compensating the other driver. This compensation should be adequate to cover any personal injuries that the driver suffered, as well as any property damages that occurred.
The at-fault driver can cover these costs out of pocket. Or, they can work with their insurance agency to pay out the claim. When insurance policies are involved, two types of coverage will apply:
- Property damage liability
- Bodily injury liability
Property Damage Liability
If you use your insurance to pay for a collision that you’ve caused, your insurance agent will reference the property damage liability portion of your policy.
In an accident, most of the damages will be related to the vehicle. They could be as minor as a scratched bumper, or much more serious. However, other types of property damage could occur, such as:
- Damages to items that you’re wearing (e.g. broken eyeglasses, ripped clothing)
- Damages to electronic items not attached to the car (e.g. laptops, GPS systems, digital cameras)
- Damages to other items in your car (e.g. child restraint systems, valuables in the glove compartment or trunk)
In an at-fault state, the other driver’s insurance policy can help pay for all or a portion of these damages.
Bodily Injury Liability
Of course, property damages aren’t the only types of damage that can occur in a car accident. If someone is injured, the at-fault driver will also be responsible for helping to cover their cost of care. Common medical expenses include:
- Physician visits
- Physical therapy
Note that for both property damage liability and bodily injury liability, the at-fault driver’s insurance policy will only cover up to their designated limit. If your expenses run over that limit, you would be responsible for paying for them out of pocket.
Knowing this, some drivers choose to invest in supplemental insurance to help cover the cost of property damage or personal injuries, as well as injuries sustained by any of their passengers.
Proving Negligence in At-Fault and No-Fault States
In both at-fault and no-fault states, the issue of negligence is key. If you can prove that the other driver acted negligently and caused the accident, then you may be able to receive compensation.
The main difference is that in a no-fault state, you wouldn’t normally be able to claim medical expenses. Those would already be covered under your PIP policy. However, you can sue for property damages.
In a no-fault state, you can sue for both.
In either case, you will need more than anecdotal evidence to prove negligence. Insurance companies will require official accounts, such as eyewitness statements, police reports, and photos/images of the accident scene to ascertain who is to blame. The most frustrating part of the process is that even after receiving all of this evidence, they could still deny your claim or offer much less than you need or deserve.
Even if you can prove negligence, your payout may differ depending on where you live, as well as your involvement in the accident. States can follow a few different negligence laws, including:
Pure Contributory Negligence
In a pure contributory negligence state, drivers will only receive a settlement if the insurance company can prove that they were 100% not to blame for the accident. If the other driver can prove that you were even 1% negligent, then you may not recover anything at all.
This is the strictest negligence law. To date, only four states follow it:
- North Carolina
In addition, the District of Columbia also references pure contributory negligence law for most personal injury claims.
Pure Comparative Negligence
In a pure comparative negligence state, the amount of compensation you receive after a car accident is based on the percentage to which you were at fault.
For instance, if the insurance company finds you to be 60% at fault for the accident, then you would have to cover 60% of the damages, only claiming 40% for yourself. Technically, this means that you could still recover a small amount of damages in an accident, even if you were 99% at fault for it.
To date, 13 states follow pure comparative negligence law. These include:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Modified Comparative Negligence
In a modified comparative negligence state, there’s a designated threshold, or limit, or fault. This threshold is usually 50%. As long as your degree of negligence was lower than the threshold, you should be eligible to receive compensation following an accident.
Although Washington, D.C. mandates pure contributory negligence for drivers, this region now uses modified contributory negligence for lawsuits initiated by pedestrians or bicyclists.
An Attorney Can Help You Navigate Your Car Accident Claim
If you live in a no-fault accident state, your PIP coverage can help you cover your medical expenses and lost wages, while the other driver may be responsible for covering property damages.
If you live in an at-fault state, your next step is to prove negligence. This is where an experienced car accident lawyer comes in.
Our team of attorneys is ready to help you gather evidence and build a strong case. We’ll help you understand your rights and then we’ll fight for them, one step at a time. Contact us today for a free consultation.