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Car accidents: whose fault is it?

Having a car accident is always an unpleasant experience but it can be made even worse if there is a dispute over who is responsible for it. To understand whether or not you may be responsible you need to understand how fault is determined and what steps you should take to prove it. Read on to get a better idea of who is responsible for a car accident.

Driver Making Phone Call After Traffic Accident

Driver Making Phone Call After Traffic Accident

How is fault determined?

In any car accident that takes place in the UK it is almost always the case that at least one driver is at fault – the overwhelming majority of accidents are as a result of driver error. In most incidents it’s true that one driver is mainly to blame for the accident, however, it can also be the case that more than one driver is to blame. Fault is determined by working out who exactly made a driving error and to what extent this caused the crash to occur.

Unfortunately in most cases even if a driver is entirely responsible for an accident they will not admit to it – in fact most insurance companies require you to not make any statements about who is at fault. Usually it will be down to insurance claim handlers to determine who is at fault in your accident.

Whose car insurance pays?

The answer to this question depends entirely on who the insurance claim handlers find to be at fault in the accident. In principal as you might expect, if someone else is found to be at fault in the accident it will be up to their insurance to pay, whereas if you are found to be at fault it will be your insurance that pays out.

Technically you will make a claim from your insurance company who will then recoup the money from the other driver’s insurance firm. However, in practice this means that if a driver is completely at fault, it is their insurance who pays for the cost of the accident.

It should also be noted that if you are not at fault then you will also need to claim back the cost of the excess from the other driver’s insurance company as initially you will have to pay any excess you have agreed to as a part of your contract, regardless of whether you are at fault or not.


Clear fault

While in some accidents it can be very difficult to establish exactly who is to blame, in other scenarios there are clear indicators that someone is at fault. For example, if a car is speeding then blame will always be at least partially placed upon the driver for causing any accident that occurs.

In the case of almost any rear end collision, fault lies with the driver who hit the back of the car in front. This is case because the highway code dictates that a car travelling behind a vehicle must keep an appropriate distance in front to be able to break in time should that car come to a halt. There are very few examples where a rear end collision is the fault of the car in front, but one would be where the car in front has selected reverse gear and is reversing on a road in any incident other than parking.

Parking is another example where an accident can be easily attributed. If you are pulling out of a parking space and you hit someone, you will almost always be at fault, even if you are indicating correctly. This is because a car already on the road has right of way.


Traffic signs

One aspect that many people forget if they have been in an accident is traffic signs. Even minor traffic accidents are enough to leave you shaken but it pays to be aware of everything around you to establish whether you’re at fault.

Remember that even if it appears initially that you are at fault it could be that the other driver disobeyed a stop sign or ran a red light. In this case the blame would shift away from you and on to them. In the event that you think another driver has broken the law you should report the accident to the police.

What to do if you have an accident

If you are involved in a traffic incident where someone else is injured, damage is caused to someone else’s car or property or an animal is killed, you are required by law to stop at the scene. You must then provide your car registration, name and address to anyone at the scene who has reasonable grounds to request it. In many cases it is also a good idea to get the police involved and possibly also an ambulance if someone has been injured.

Once you have dealt with your legal obligations it is a good idea to start getting some details of the scene so that when you make a claim on your insurance it is easier to establish who is at fault. Document any evidence around the scene by taking photos, taking the details of any witnesses, looking for video cameras that may have captured the accident and surveying the surrounding area for physical evidence including skid marks on the road or traffic signs that may have been violated.

Remember that even if it seems to be a clear case that the fault lies with the other driver, you may need to prove this was definitely the case. This mean the onus is still on you to find any evidence you may need. If you are in any doubt or the other driver is unwilling to stay at the scene or provide evidence, it is always best to involve the police to ensure an investigation is carried out thoroughly.

You must then report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible so that they can begin conducting an investigation and start proceedings.

Proving fault

As has been mentioned before, even in the case where an accident appears to be entirely the other driver’s fault, they are unlikely to admit to it. Therefore you need to make it as easy as possible for accident investigators to come to the right conclusion and prove the fault does not lie with you. Gather all the evidence you need and have it ready for when you make your insurance claim.

Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer working together with Chichester based law practice George Ide LLP, who were consulted over this post.

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