Car Accidents: Proving Fault

Establish who’s at fault for a car, motorcycle, or bicycle accident. As with other types of accidents, figuring out who is at fault in a traffic accident is a matter of deciding who was careless — or “negligent,” in legalese. In many cases common sense will tell you that a driver, cyclist, or pedestrian acted carelessly, but you may not know what laws or rules that person violated. Your argument to an insurance company that another person was at fault for an accident can be strengthened if you find some “official” support for your conclusion. Here are a number of places to look for such support. Police Reports If the police came to the scene of your accident, particularly if they knew that someone was injured, they probably made a written accident report. Ask the traffic division of your local law enforcement agency how to get a copy. Sometimes a police report plainly states an officer’s opinion that someone violated a specific traffic law and that the violation caused the accident. It may even state that the officer issued a citation. Other times, the report merely mentions negligent behavior, without plainly stating that the violation caused the accident. Regardless of how specific it is, any mention in a police report of a traffic law violation or careless driving by another person can serve as great support in showing that the other person was at fault. State Traffic Laws Another place to look for support for your argument that the other driver was at fault is in the state laws that govern driving. These rules of the road are contained in each state’s statutes and are usually known as the “Vehicle Code.” A simplified version of these laws (sometimes called “The Rules of the Road”) is often available at a local department of motor vehicles office. The complete vehicle code is usually available at many public libraries, and all law libraries. In the index to the vehicle code, look for listings that may apply to your accident. For example, there may be listings for “speed limits,” “right of way,” or “roadway markings.” If you visit a law library, the librarian may be willing to help you with your search, so don’t be afraid to ask. If you find a rule that might apply to your accident, copy not only its exact wording but also the statute number, so that you can refer to it accurately when you negotiate your claim with the insurance company. “No-Doubt” Liability If you’re involved in certain kinds of accidents, the other driver is at fault 99% of the time, and insurance companies hardly bother to argue about it. Rear-End Collisions If someone hits you from behind, it is virtually never your fault, regardless of why you stopped. A basic rule of the road requires a vehicle to be able to stop safely if traffic is stopped ahead of it. If it cannot stop safely, the driver is not driving as safely as the person in front. The other sure-fire part of the rear-end accident claim is that the damage proves how it happened: If one car’s front end is damaged and the other’s rear end is, there can’t be much argument about who struck whom. Of course, the driver of the car that hit you may have a claim against someone who caused you to stop suddenly, or against a third car that pushed his car into yours, but that doesn’t change his or her responsibility for injuries to you and damage to your car. Keep in mind, however, that even if you have been rear-ended, in a few circumstances your own carelessness may reduce your compensation under the rule of “comparative negligence.” A common example is when one or both of your brake or tail lights were out, especially if the accident happened at night. Another example is if you had mechanical problems but failed to do all you could to move the vehicle off the road. Left-Turn Accidents A car making a left turn is almost always liable for a collision with a car coming straight in the other direction. Exceptions to this near-automatic rule are rare and difficult to prove, but they can occur if: The car going straight was going well over the speed limit. The car going straight went through a red light. The left-turning car began its turn when it was safe, but something unexpected made it slow down or stop. This is an extremely difficult exception to use because a basic rule of the road says a car making a left turn must wait until it can safely complete the turn before moving in front of oncoming traffic. As with a rear-end collision, the location of the damage on the cars sometimes makes it difficult for the driver to argue that the accident happened in some way other than during a left turn.


About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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