When two or more cars are involved in an accident, authorities are often tasked to determine who is at fault. Police investigators and insurance providers gather evidence to prove negligence to determine liability or who must pay for damages in a car accident.
Most often, if either party wants to claim insurance benefits, they will have to prove that they’re the aggrieved party. The same holds if one decides to file a case in court formally. Often, parties involved in car collisions use their insurance coverages before filing a lawsuit.
Building a case against the other party in a car collision takes careful planning and documentation. There are a few things to consider, such as the essential elements of an accident or injury claim. But first, you’ll have to find out what typically happens in a car accident.
What Happens After A Car Accident
Safety is paramount in all car accident scenarios. While waiting for authorities and medical services to arrive, gather as much information and evidence as possible if you’re capable.
Talking to the other party, potential witnesses, and taking photos of the crash and the surroundings are necessary. You’ll need them when filing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
Parties must contact their insurance providers to kick start the insurance claim process. In most cases, your provider will cover your medical bills and repair costs. In some cases, they won’t.
Knowing where the state stands in terms of insurance coverage is essential in moving forward. You’ll find out why in the next section.
At Fault Vs. No-Fault States
When it comes to insurance payments, it’s crucial to determine whether the accident occurred in an ‘at-fault’ or ‘no-fault’ state. In ‘at-fault’ states, the party who caused the accident is liable for compensation.
Both parties can file repayment for damages with their insurance providers regardless of who inflicted them in ‘no-fault’ states. In these jurisdictions, car owners are required to purchase a no-fault car insurance coverage or personal injury protection to pay for hospitalization costs and loss of wages applicable during the days where the injured person can’t report for work.
For major collisions, an aggrieved party can still take the other party to court, as ‘no-fault’ states have thresholds concerning the severity of injuries and cost of medical bills.
How The Police And Insurance Companies Investigate
As the entities involved in investigating car collisions, police and insurance policy adjusters play fundamental roles in helping you build your case in court. Police investigators gather evidence by interviewing witnesses in all instances and file a report after that. The aim is to determine who and what might have caused the car crash. This proves to be highly beneficial to individuals who sustained severe injuries and needed to be immediately rushed to the hospital.
On the other hand, insurance companies will check the police report and assign an insurance adjuster to check the validity of your claim. Like police investigators, they will interview witnesses, evaluate medical reports, and compare them with the physical damages incurred by the vehicle. The insurance representative will then check the laws applicable in your state in terms of liability and negligence.
If your claims are rejected or not happy with the benefits received—likely because you’ve been considered partially at fault—you can hire legal counsel to explore all options available to you under the applicable laws.
4 Elements Of A Car Accident Claim
Depending on the actual circumstances, a person may consider filing a personal injury case or a product liability lawsuit if they’re unaware of the recall for a defective vehicle involved in the collision.
For your case to hold up in court, the following elements should be present and established.
- Establishing The Defendant’s Duty Of Care
“Duty of care” is a legal obligation imposed on persons who have to maintain the well-being and safety of other people. Driving is a privilege. Motorists are responsible for obeying the traffic rules to keep everyone safe.
It’s presumed that drivers must operate the vehicle carefully to avoid others from getting hurt. This is the reason why liability insurance is a must-have for drivers.
With the help of legal counsel, your task as a complainant is to prove that the other driver was negligent or didn’t exercise their duty of reasonable care, causing the car accident.
This is where the police report comes in handy. Depending on the circumstances of the car accident, police may issue a citation ticket against the defendant. You can use this as evidence to show negligence committed by the other party.
- Presenting Evidence On How The Defendant Breached The Duty Of Care
After having established the other driver’s legal obligation, the defendant will now have to prove to the court. The common term for duty of care breach is negligence. It happens when the defendant acts irresponsibly or unreasonably.
These breaches may include the following offenses:
- Driving past speed limits
- Failing to yield to another vehicle
- Beating the red light
- Driving under the influence
- Texting or calling while driving
This list isn’t exhaustive and other actions may be considered depending on the actual circumstances of the accident. In ‘at-fault’ states, the court weighs the severity of the breaches and the scope of injuries, among other key considerations to determine one’s liability and the settlement amount.
A traffic citation issued to the defendant could be used as evidence of negligence, as mentioned. Otherwise, you and your legal counsel will have to prove that the other party reacted irrationally, causing the crash.
- Proving That The Breach Caused The Accident
To prove that the defendant’s actions caused the injuries, you must keep all potential evidence, such as photos of the vehicle’s physical damages and the medical records. Presenting receipts of car repairs and other financial documents may also be given when asking for economic damages.
Proving that the defendant caused injuries and damages you incurred can be done in both ways, through actual and proximate causation. You need to show that the defendant’s actions caused the victim’s injury and losses in actual causation. This is applicable in accidents where the circumstances are straightforward.
For instance, if the driver beats the red light and hits a pedestrian crossing the street, the former is the actual cause of the accident. It’s based on the “if not or but for” principle, which in the said case would be: If not for the driver’s action, the defendant wouldn’t have been harmed.
Meanwhile, proximate causation refers to actions that can be legally recognized as the primary reason for damages or injuries. Otherwise, the injuries would have been the foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. Whereas direct causation is straightforward, proximate causation may not be. For instance, if the driver was driving under the influence (DUI) and had been driving erratically, it’s reasonable to say that the driver’s action may cause an accident, such as a car crash.
Establishing causation is critical in proving a defendant’s negligence and liabilities. Because even if the driver acted with negligence, but the plaintiff couldn’t prove that the negligent action caused the accident, the court will dismiss the damage claims.
- Proving That The Crash Caused The Damages
After the three elements have been established, the plaintiff will have to present evidence that the injuries and damages occurred due to the crash.
Damages that may be claimed concerning a car crash could include the following:
- Medical Expenses: Whether suffering from minor or significant injuries, you can present all the receipts for your diagnostic tests, physical fees, medication costs, and other medical and post-surgical bills when filing for a claim.
- Damages To Property: The driver may ask for a refund for car collision repair costs or the car’s fair market value if it’s completely damaged. Presenting photos of the vehicle taken from all angles at the crash site and other properties in question as well as the testimonies from witnesses.
- Lost Wages: Incurring injuries may force drivers to stay at home to recuperate, as physical exertion and movement may exacerbate their condition. As such, it can reduce your earning capacities.
- Non-economic Damages: An accident survivor may suffer from life-disrupting mental and emotional stress due to the injuries incurred. Such results can be considered damages due to pain and suffering.
- Wrongful Death: In some states, surviving families can sue for wrongful death if the car accident caused the end of the driver, passenger, or pedestrian.
A complainant should submit all the receipts for economic expenses and consult with professionals about how to prove and measure non-economic damages.
The Bottom Line
Establishing fault and negligence in a car collision is crucial in filing claims, especially in ‘at-fault’ states. These factors dictate how much settlement you’ll receive from your insurance provider and the defendant if you file a lawsuit.
All pertinent evidence related to the car accident is crucial in supporting your claims—alongside knowing the elements discussed in this article. With them, you and your lawyer can craft strategies to optimize your claims in and out of the court.
Author Bio: Lance Fields is a paralegal working on completing his law degree. He’s planning to specialize in personal injury cases once he passes the state bar exam. Besides law school and work duties, skydiving and trail biking keep him busy.