How Is Fault Determined In a Car Accident?

When an accident occurs, everyone asks “whose fault” caused the car accident.

Insurers must know whose fault caused the accident before reimbursing a claim. The police need to know whose fault it was to determine how to document the accident. Those involved in the accident also need to know these details to help them file an insurance claim.

But, how is fault determined in a car accident? Who is responsible for determining the fault?

Who Determines Fault In a Car Accident?

Typically, insurance companies are responsible for determining fault after a car accident based on state laws and details of the accident.

When determining fault, insurers also establish negligence and determine who was negligent in the car accident.

Fault can also be assigned to the most negligent party.

Sometimes, it’s obvious who was at fault in the accident, and the drivers can decide between themselves while still at the scene of the accident.

But this is not always the case, especially when it’s a rear-end accident. It would be difficult to establish who was the negligent driver.

No-Fault vs. At-Fault Car Accident

The state of your residence plays a role in determining how insurers determine fault. Why?

States are classified into two:

  • No-fault states
  • At-fault states or tort-states

No-Fault States

No-fault accidents occur in no-fault states.

No-fault states are states with no-fault insurance laws, where every driver must carry a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage in their policy. In a no-fault car accident, the insurer will pay out the claim, regardless of who is found at fault for the accident.

Insurers use the PIP coverage to pay for medical expenses after a car accident, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. But, PIP coverage does not extend to the costs of personal property damage that result from the car accident.

No-fault insurance is a requirement in only 12 states. These include:

  • Florida
  • Washington D.C.
  • New York
  • Kansas
  • New York
  • Hawaii
  • Pennsylvania
  • Michigan
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Utah
  • Minnesota
  • North Dakota

At-Fault States

At-fault accidents occur in at-fault states.

In at-fault states, drivers don’t have to carry PIP insurance by law. In an at-fault car accident, insurers only pay out claims after determining who caused the accident. The at-fault driver’s insurer is responsible for the accident to pay for injuries and medical bills, up to policy limits.

While all other states operate as at-fault states, some of them require PIP insurance as optional coverage.

How Does Car Insurance Cover At-Fault Accidents?

The type of coverage you carry plays a significant role in your claim compensation, especially when you’re at fault in a car accident.

But, car insurance requirements vary by state. So you need to check with your insurance agent for the at-fault laws in your state.

Here is how the different types of car insurance come into play when you’re at fault:


Whether or not you’re at fault in a car accident, collision insurance will step in and help you pay for the vehicle damages after removing the deductible.

Bodily Injury Liability Insurance

Your bodily injury coverage will cover the costs of your injuries and that of your passengers when you’re determined to be at fault for an accident. It also covers the driver and passengers of the other vehicle.

This cover can also help compensate for pain and suffering, lost wages, funeral costs, and legal fees.

Personal Injury Protection Insurance

Including a no-fault insurance coverage (PIP) in your policy is a good idea if it’s not a requirement in your state. Like bodily injury coverage, PIP covers all medical bills, health insurance deductibles, and lost wages. Depending on the policy limit, it can also cover essential services (grocery, child care, cleaning, etc.) and funeral expenses.

How Fault Is Determined In a Car Accident

Typically, insurance companies determine fault after a car accident based on details of the accident and the state’s laws.

Details Of The Accident

How fault is determined in a car accident relies on various elements. The details of the accident that insurers use to determine fault include:

  • Vehicle damage (Extent, location)
  • Weather conditions
  • Physical evidence
  • Police report details
  • Witnesses

State Laws

At-fault vs. No-fault state laws contribute to how car insurers pay out accident claims. This depends on how state laws define negligence.

State laws help to determine negligence and then assign fault to the negligent driver. However, multiple parties can be at fault for a car accident.

Many times, a car accident is not solely one driver’s fault. So, as a driver, you may be held partially responsible and at fault for causing the accident.

In this case, an insurance provider may assign a given percentage of blame to each involved party based on their level of negligence, as provided by the details of the accident.

The insurer will then issue the compensation based on the percentage of fault.

Depending on your state, you may encounter different terms referring to negligence, including:

Comparative Negligence (fault)

This is where the insurer compares your negligence and that of another drive to ascertain what you will get in compensation. The insurer decides the compensation based on the percentage of responsibility for the accident.

For example, assume you’re involved in an accident, and the other driver is found to be 70% at fault, while you’re 30% responsible. In this case, your amount of compensation will be reduced by 30% because of your apparent contributory negligence.

Modified Comparative Negligence (fault)

There is one important caveat in negligence law. If, after a car accident, you’re found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident, you are not entitled to any form of compensation. This is called modified comparative negligence.

If your state used modified comparative negligence, you’d pay for your own repair bills and medical expenses from your pocket, even if the other driver was deemed partially at fault.

Pure Negligence (contributory negligence)

In some states, insurers have to determine the negligence that caused the car accident. If you’re found with any negligence for the accident, you will not get any compensation from your insurer.

For example, even if the insurer finds you to be only 5% responsible for the accident, they will not fund your claim.

Does Being At-Fault Affect Your Insurance Premiums?

If it’s determined that you’re at fault for the car accident, your insurance rates may or may not rise. One accident won’t affect your rates.

To increase your premiums, your insurance company will consider several other factors, including the accident’s circumstances.

This information will form part of your driving records that can eventually be used to determine whether or not to increase your premium rates.

Besides, if you carry accident forgiveness on your policy, your premium will not increase.

But, if, unfortunately, your premium increases, you’ll need to start fresh and re-establish your good driving record.

Final Thoughts

Accidents happen, and they’re sometimes inevitable. How is fault determined in a car accident? We believe you now have the answer. It all boils down to your insurer and the details of the accident. If you have any questions or comments, share them with us in the comments section.