Accidents happen, but when they’re your fault, things can get messy — and expensive.
The average consumer spends roughly $400 each year on auto maintenance, but that doesn’t always prevent serious car accidents. An accident is stressful enough, but what if you’re the at fault driver in the accident? What are you supposed to do? How do you make the most of what for some is the worst kind of problem?
If you’re the at fault driver in a car accident, there are certain things you’re responsible for doing, and certain things you ought to take care of to avoid making a bad situation worse. In this article, we’ll go over what you should do if you’re the at fault driver in a car accident, as well as how to prepare for the unlikely event that it should happen in the future.
Have the Right Insurance
Good car insurance isn’t a luxury you can live without like residential lifts might be. In many ways, the kind of insurance you have will make the difference between a nightmare situation and a manageable one when you’re an at fault driver in an accident.
Unfortunately, if you’re already in the middle of a car accident it’s too late to be thinking about your insurance plan. You should make sure you have the car insurance you need, based on your state and the risks you commonly face, before you actually need it.
There are six common types of car insurance coverage: liability coverage, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, comprehensive coverage, collision coverage, medical payments coverage, and personal injury coverage. Depending on where you live, these might not all be mandatory, but they can all come in handy when you need them.
Liability coverage is mandatory in most states, and it’s the first kind of insurance you need when you’re the at fault driver in a crash. Liability coverage comprises of bodily injury liability, which can help pay for medical costs for the victim of an accident you caused; and property damage liability, which helps cover damage you caused to another person’s vehicle. You don’t want to have to deal with someone’s personal injury lawyer in court, so having good liability coverage is essential.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is less important if you happen to be the at fault driver, but it’s very important if you’re hit by a driver without adequate insurance. It can help pay for your own medical bills or vehicle repairs if the driver at fault didn’t have insurance to cover your expenses.
Comprehensive coverage covers damage to your vehicle from things like theft, hail, fire, or vandalism. Collision coverage, similarly, covers damage caused by actual car accidents or collisions with other objects.
Finally, medical payments coverage and personal injury protection help protect you against the costs of medical care and related expenses if you or passengers get injured in an accident.
One of the things people worry about when they find themselves the victims of an auto accident is rising insurance costs. If it’s determined that you’re at fault for a car accident, your insurance premiums will probably go up when you go to renew your coverage. However, you might be able to avoid this by purchasing an accident forgiveness policy to add to your insurance plan.
Not all drivers qualify for first accident forgiveness and not all insurance providers offer them, but if you can get it, it may provide some much-needed reassurance if you end up being the at fault driver in an accident.
Now that our discussion on insurance is out of the way, let’s talk about what to do after a car accident when you’re at fault.
Respond to the Accident
The first thing you’ll probably ask yourself in an accident is, is it an emergency? While every accident is an emergency in one way or another, they’re not necessarily life or death situations. The first steps in responding to an accident involve finding out how severe the damage is, contacting the right authorities, and finding out if anyone is hurt.
First of all, remember to stay put in an accident, especially if you think you caused it. You may need to move your car to the side of the road or a nearby parking lot for safety’s sake, but do not leave the scene. If you or someone in your vehicle is injured, you should call 911 right away, and let emergency responders handle it. Of course, if any injuries are relatively mild and there’s an urgent care open 24/7 nearby, you might prefer to go there instead of the hospital after you’ve dealt with insurance and the police.
Second of all, remember to remain calm. If first impressions don’t look like anyone is badly hurt, take a moment to catch your breath and calm yourself as much as you can. It’s perfectly normal to feel emotional or overwhelmed, but it’s important to keep these emotions in check while you respond to the accident. Especially avoid acting angry, as this can cause bigger problems with the other drivers involved and prolong the resolution.
Make an effort to be as polite as possible when you approach any other drivers involved in the accident. Do not blame the other person for the crash, however you also should not admit fault. The police and insurance companies will have the last say in who’s at fault for the accident, and admitting fault yourself won’t make things any better for you.
Once you’ve ensured everyone is okay, if there’s no need to call 911 for medical attention, you should call the police first. This doesn’t mean anyone’s getting in trouble — in most cases, the police will always come to the scene of an accident and file a police report. This simplifies the process of working with insurance companies afterwards, since they work with the police report to help determine fault.
While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, you should collect evidence of the accident. If you can do it safely, take photos of all the damage, and note the make and model of the other driver’s car. Write down time of day, traffic conditions, and any road hazards that contributed to the accident.
You’ll also need to exchange names and contact information with the other drivers involved, as well as the names of your insurance providers and insurance numbers. If there were any witnesses to the accident, try to get their names and contact information too.
When the police arrive, they will want to talk with you and each of the other drivers about the accident. Again, don’t say it was your fault. You need to be as honest as possible with the police, but just tell them what happened from your perspective. Don’t actually claim to be at fault.
Next you’ll be ready to talk to your insurance provider.
Call Your Insurance Provider
You’re not ready to find a car accident attorney just yet. After dealing with the police and the other driver at the scene, you’ll need to contact your insurance provider while you’re still at the scene. You probably won’t have a long conversation, but you need to let them know about the basics of the accident: where it happened, the names of other drivers or witnesses, whatever evidence you were able to capture, and details about how it happened from your point of view. Again, don’t admit fault or share your feelings about what happened. Just give them the facts, as clearly as you can present them.
Your insurance provider may tell you on the phone how they want you to submit the evidence and information you gathered. Otherwise, when you meet with your insurance agent later, they will tell you how to submit it.
Later, you’ll have the chance to meet with your insurance agent in a safe location to discuss the accident. If the police came to the accident scene and filed a police report, you should let your agent know about it. Also ask how to begin the process of filing an insurance claim for the accident.
Once you’ve survived the accident and filed your insurance claim, the hardest part should be over. Next, the police and your insurance provider will decide who was at fault and by how much.
Find Out for Sure if You’re the At Fault Driver
When you’re at fault in a car accident, the most worrying thing for you is probably the money you’ll end up losing to the accident. You may have to put off buying that used motorcycle for sale you’ve been eyeing, but don’t give up hope yet. The police and insurance companies still have to decide whether or not you’re the at fault driver, so you may not lose as much money as you think.
Before we can define how insurance companies determine fault, it’s important to recognize that different states have different policies for view fault. In most states, auto accidents are fault-based, which means that one driver or the other is held primarily responsible for the accident, even if both drivers share fault. A few states have no-fault laws, which means that each driver’s insurance pays for medical expenses up to a certain amount. But even in no-fault states, vehicle repairs are still covered by the insurance of the person considered at fault.
After taking your state’s laws into consideration, insurance companies determine fault based on the police report, evidence gathered from the scene, any witnesses who were present, and the location of the accident. A police report is considered to be a comprehensive, unbiased description of an accident. Police officers are skilled at asking the right questions and making the right observations to get to the heart of what happened.
Evidence you gathered from the scene can also help your insurance provider determine fault. Your insurance company may also talk to the insurer of the other driver, and use their evidence as well to make their decision.
Finally, the location and environmental conditions will be taken into consideration. The time of day, weather, and road conditions at the time of the accident all play a part in determining the at fault driver. If any witnesses were present, the insurance companies will contact them for interviews about what happened.
Prepare for Court, if Necessary
It’s unlikely that the police would arrest you even if you were the at fault driver in an accident. That kind of thing should only happen if you were driving under the influence or drugs or alcohol, texting while driving, or otherwise practicing illegal activities or being extremely careless when you caused the accident. However, if that does happen, all is not lost. After notifying your loved ones, the first person you should call is a good car accident lawyer to handle your case in court. Your attorney will help you consider what evidence needs to be presented to best support your legal claim in court.
Again, arrests are unusual at the scene of car accidents. As long as you don’t leave the scene, cooperate with the police, and act responsibly, you should be able to go on your way and let insurance handle the financial damages. If you are arrested and don’t have enough money for your bail, you might be able to rely on bail bonding services, depending on the laws in your state.
Even if no arrests are made, if there were severe damages, injuries, or death as a result of the accident, you may still have to make your case in court. If you did what you could to gather evidence from the scene, you next best line of defense is a good attorney to represent you. Good attorneys to fight auto accident cases aren’t necessarily as easy to find as contractors for garage door installation, however. If you have friends or family members who have experience with a particular lawyer, you may want to interview them first. You can always find legal services online, but getting direct personal recommendations is always ideal.
And with that, you should have all the information you need to know if you’re at fault for a car accident. The most important thing is to be calm, think clearly, act respectfully, and do everything you can to minimize damage, both to your finances and your reputation. When and if you’re ever the at fault driver in an accident, you’ll now know exactly how to respond.