Although a vehicle accident can occur in a split second, the potential financial and medical ramifications can potentially last a lifetime. Determining which party must pay for medical bills, damages, and other expenses hinges on a legal concept called fault.
Whether you're trying to prove someone else was responsible for an accident you were in, or you need to defend yourself from accusations from other drivers, understanding how fault is determined following an auto accident is key to a successful outcome.
Proving Fault Following an Accident
Determining fault is a process that starts in the immediate aftermath of a collision and concludes in the courtroom. Specifics vary by state, with some allowing for contributory negligence, which is where multiple parties involved in the accident can share liability to varying degrees.
Proving fault involves these five elements:
- Obtaining an Accident Report
After an accident occurs, all parties involved will want a copy of the official accident report.
Written by the responding law enforcement officer, an accident report details the time of day, road conditions, weather, direction of travel for all vehicles, and more. Establishing an impartial, factual foundation is the first step in preparing a legal strategy.
- Hire an Attorney
Even if the case seems relatively straightforward, litigants are always strongly encouraged to hire legal representation.
"Anyone who tries to represent themselves in a legal case will almost always end up overwhelmed," Attorney David Gordon of the Law Office of David E. Gordon. "Only a legal professional understands the specifics required, including the burden of proof necessary to meet the state's legal definition of fault."
- Develop a Legal Strategy
With help from the litigant, the attorney will form a legal strategy based on the specifics of the case.
Witnesses often play an important role. A qualified car accident attorney understands how to locate any potential witnesses to the accident. Additionally, the attorney will help prepare the witness for their court appearance, including how to respond during cross-examination.
- Determine the Amount of Damages
An attorney can help determine the appropriate level of monetary damages to seek, which is often difficult for someone to do on their own.
If the injured party seeks too high of an amount, their credibility suffers, and they could lose the case entirely. If they seek too little, they might not get enough to cover long-term medical care or lost wages. An experienced attorney, typically working with medical professionals, will learn the true extent of their client's injuries and then request appropriate compensation for future financial needs.
- Receive Medical Care
A person injured in an accident should seek out medical care right away instead of waiting for money from a settlement.
Documenting the extent of any injuries helps establish their legitimacy, which in turn strengthens the injured party's claim. Additionally, seeking out care early helps improve the extent of recovery.
If someone's negligent behavior results in a car accident, they could end up legally liable for any injuries or damages that occurred. Determining fault is a specific legal process involving witnesses, medical reports, and establishing a specific level of proof.
While the process can feel complicated, understanding the basic elements can help you achieve the outcome you desire, whether it's defending against false accusations or seeking compensation from the responsible party.