Who is at fault for a car accidentNobody leaves their house or workplace and expects to get hurt in a car accident. However, traffic collisions happen very frequently in Southern California, especially since most residents rely on motor vehicles to get from one place to another. With more cars on the road, there is a greater risk of a collision.

Who is at fault in a car accident? Many drivers who have been injured in motor vehicle crashes want to know how to tell who is at fault in a car accident. Fault in a California car accident depends on different factors.

Determining Fault Initially in a Car Crash in California

California is what is known as a “fault” state when it comes to auto accidents and claims. Some states are “no-fault” states, while other states are “fault” states.

In a “fault” state, the police will typically assign fault to one (or more) of the drivers in a motor vehicle collision, and an injury victim can be eligible to file a claim against the responsible driver.

When the police are called to the scene of an accident and write out a police report that identifies one of the drivers as the driver at fault, the police report becomes an important document in proving fault.

When a driver files an auto insurance claim in a fault-based car insurance state, the driver typically has two options for property damages:

  • File a 1st-party claim: this is a claim through the driver’s own auto insurance company; or
  • File a 3rd-party claim: this is a claim through the auto insurance company of the driver who is at fault.

There are benefits and limitations to each type of claim. When a driver files a 1st-party claim, she or he is responsible for paying the deductible even if she is not at fault. Then, that driver’s own insurance company attempts to recoup the deductible from the liable driver’s insurance company. A 1st-party claim can sometimes be quicker than a 3rd-party claim.

When a driver files a 3rd-party claim, she does not have to pay a deductible, but the process can take longer. In addition, if the driver at fault has limits on the policy, the injury victim may be unable to obtain full compensation for her losses.

In such a scenario, the injury victim may be able to file a lawsuit to seek damages for additional losses.

For bodily injuries, the driver has to go through a 3rd-party claim first before doing a 1st-party claim.

How to Prove Fault Based On Evidence at the Scene of the Crash

After a crash, you probably want to know how to determine fault in a car accident. In addition to a police report, injury victims should gather the following evidence at the scene of a crash:

  • Witness statements;
  • Witness contact information;
  • Photographs of the scene taken from multiple vantage points; and
  • Photographs of injuries.

In addition, the injury victim should seek medical attention. Medical records can also be used as evidence to prove that the other driver was at fault. Even if you believe you may have been partially to blame, never admit fault after a car accident.

Comparative Fault and California Auto Crash Claims

What happens if both drivers—the plaintiff and the defendant—are responsible in some capacity for the car accident? This is known as comparative fault, or contributory negligence.

Under California law, a plaintiff’s comparative fault reduces her damages award by the portion of her fault, but it does not prevent her from recovering damages.

For example, if a plaintiff (the personal injury victim who filed a claim) is found to be 10 percent at fault, her damages award will be reduced by 10 percent. Even if a plaintiff is found to be 90 percent at fault, she can still recover, but her damages award will be reduced by 90 percent.

If the payout in a given case is $100,000, a plaintiff who is 10 percent at fault will have her award reduced by $10,000 and she will receive $90,000. If the plaintiff is 90 percent at fault, her award will be reduced by $90,000 and she will receive $10,000.

Some states bar a plaintiff from recovery if they are 50 percent or more at fault, while others bar plaintiffs who are 51 percent or more at fault. There is no bar to recovery like this under California law.

Contact a California Car Accident Attorney About Filing a Claim

Were you injured in a serious car crash in California? You should speak with a Long Beach car accident attorney about filing a claim for compensation. Even if you think you may bear some responsibility for the collision, you may still be able to recover damages. Contact The Beliz Law Firm to learn more about how we assist clients in California with auto accident claims.

Author Photo

Michael Beliz

Michael A. Beliz, Esq., established The Beliz Law Firm in the spring of 2011.  Michael has been a practicing attorney since 2006 and worked for two of the most prominent plaintiff’s personal injury law firms in Southern California.  He has worked on and handled hundreds of cases as an attorney in all types of personal injury cases, including vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents and dog bites, and successfully recovered millions of dollars for his clients.