What is an at-fault accident?

An at-fault accident is a car accident that you cause. If you're at fault for an accident, your liability insurance pays for the other driver's injuries and property damage.

Andrew Hurst

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Andrew Hurst

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

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By

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®

Certified Financial Planner

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius. Previously, she was a regional consultant at Fidelity Investments for nine years.

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Insurance companies use fault to determine responsibility after an accident. You may be found at fault in an accident if you were speeding when you hit another driver's car, if you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if you were distracted and had your eyes off the road.

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After an at-fault accident, the responsible driver's auto insurance policy pays for the other driver's injuries and property damage. This is different in not-at-fault states where the at-fault driver would only pay for the other's property damage.

Key takeaways

  • If you're the at-fault driver in a car accident, it means that an insurance adjuster determined that you were the one who was responsible for the car accident.

  • As the at-fault driver, your car insurance would pay for the other driver's injuries and damaged property — as long as you have enough coverage.

  • In no-fault states, your own insurance pays for your injuries, no matter who was at fault.

What is an at-fault accident?

If an insurance adjuster finds you at-fault or negligent after the accident, you have to pay for any injuries and property damage you caused. You may be found at fault if your actions led to the accident — for example, if you were speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or even if you made a turn while another driver had the right of way. 

Insurance adjusters look at the police report that was filed at the scene, statements from the drivers and any witnesses, and photos of the scene of the accident to figure out which driver was at fault.

If you are at fault for an accident, you are financially responsible for the other driver's medical bills, along with the cost of fixing or replacing their vehicle. Fortunately, as long as you have insurance, you won't have to pay these expenses yourself. Your car insurance will cover the cost of the other driver's bills up to the limits of your policy.

What is a no-fault accident?

A no-fault accident is a crash where drivers use their own insurance for their injuries, instead of making a third-party claim. In states that require drivers' insurance to cover their injuries — called no-fault states — drivers have a limited ability to sue after a no-fault accident. However, drivers in no-fault states can still make liability claims after a no -fault accident for their damaged property, just like in at-fault states.

No-fault states require drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP), a form of car insurance coverage that pays for your own medical expenses after an accident. Some no-fault states also allow drivers to waive their PIP protection. The 12 no-fault states are: 

→ Read more about no-fault states and auto insurance

How is fault determined in a car accident

Insurance companies determine fault after a car accident differently depending on where you live. There are four types of systems auto insurance companies use to assign fault. Each system has different rules that affect the payout you can seek for injuries and property damage.

  • Pure contributory: You can't seek any payment from the other driver if you are even 1% at fault for an accident.

  • Pure comparative: You can seek payments in line with your percentage of fault in an accident. Under these rules, if you are 70% at fault for an accident, you could claim 30% of your expenses from the other driver's insurance.

  • Modified comparative: You can make a claim for payment if you are less than 50% or 51% responsible for an accident, depending on where you live. 

  • Slight/gross comparative: As long as you are only slightly responsible for an accident instead of grossly at-fault, you can seek payment.

Most states use a modified comparative system to assign fault and judge insurance payouts. The largest share of these states operate under modified comparative rules where drivers must be less than 51% at fault for an accident to make a claim from the other driver.

System

States

Pure contributory

AL, MD, NC, VA, DC

Pure comparative

AK, AZ, CA, FL, KY, LA, MS, MO, NM, NY, RI, WA

Modified comparative - 50%

AR, CO, GA, ID, KS, ME, NE, ND, TN, UT

Modified comparative - 51%

CT, DE, HI, IL, IN, IA, MA, MI, MN, MT, NV, NH, NJ, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, TX, VT, WV, WI, WY

Slight/gross comparative

SD

What do you do after a car accident that's your fault

If you're in an accident and you think that it might have been your fault, you should still follow all of the same steps you would in an accident where you are the victim. If you're in an accident that's your fault, you should:

  1. Call 911: Even if no one appears seriously hurt, first responders can evaluate everyone for injuries. You'll also have to file a police report after an accident. In fact, the police report is one of the most important factors that insurance companies use to determine fault after an accident. 

  2. Avoid mentioning that you were at fault: Even after an accident that you think was your fault, you should avoid admitting fault at the scene. Instead, wait for the investigation to conclude. The investigators may find other factors were at play in the accident.

  3. Collect all the necessary information: Be prepared to exchange your name, address, phone number, insurance information, and policy numbers with the other driver. You should also get the names of any witnesses at the scene of the accident, and document the license plates of all the cars at the scene, along with police officers' badge numbers.

  4. Document the accident: Photograph everything, including all damage to vehicles, property, and injuries to everyone involved. You should make notes, too. All of this information will help you if you have to make a claim. Even if you are partially at fault for the accident, you may be able to make a claim for damage.

  5. File a claim and stay on top of the process: Even if you're at fault for the accident, you can still make a collision claim with your insurance provider to cover any damage to your own car. Also, if you live in a no-fault state, you will have to make a PIP claim for your own injuries, regardless of fault.

Whatever you do, don’t flee the scene of an accident. Leaving the scene of an accident before police arrive could turn a normal fender bender into a much more serious offense.

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Can you fight an at-fault accident?

If your insurance company finds you at fault after an accident and you disagree, you may be able to fight the ruling. As soon as possible after the decision, you should contact your insurance via phone call or letter to state that you disagree with their ruling and will be presenting new evidence that shows you weren't at fault.

To fight an at-fault ruling, you'll need to go through your insurer's fault dispute process, which might entail going on record with your new evidence to an insurance adjuster. You may also have to contact any law enforcement that was at the scene of the accident to ask for an addendum to their police report. 

Can you make an at-fault accident insurance claim?

There are some situations after an accident where you can make a claim even though an insurance adjuster finds you to be at fault for the crash. Whether you can make a claim even as the at-fault driver depends on where you live and what kind of coverage you have.

As long as you don't live in one of the states that uses a pure contributory system to determine fault, there's a chance that you could be responsible for an accident and still make a claim. In pure comparative states, you could make a claim in proportion to your fault. In modified comparative states, you could still make a claim as long as you aren't more than 50% or 51% at fault for the accident, depending on where you live.

If you can't make a third-party liability claim against the other driver for damage, you can still make a claim if you have a full coverage insurance policy. If you have full coverage, you have collision insurance. Collision coverage pays for your car's repairs after an accident — or even a replacement — no matter who was at fault.

→ Read about why collision coverage is an important part of an insurance policy

Will an at-fault claim raise my insurance rates?

Unfortunately, if you're at fault in an accident your rates will likely increase, unless you have accident forgiveness. Policygenius has found that after an at-fault accident, drivers' cost of car insurance goes up by an average of 43%. Depending on your company, however, it could be much less.

The best ways to lower your rates after an at-fault accident are to take advantage of your insurer's car insurance discounts, including switching to electronic payments, paperless billing, taking a defensive driving course, and more. You won't erase your rate increase completely, but you could lower it slightly with discounts.

You should also compare quotes from more than one provider to ensure that you get the best rates in your area. While almost every auto insurance company increases rates for drivers who have an accident on their records, they don't increase them by the same amount. 

Does accident forgiveness work after an at-fault accident?

If you have accident forgiveness as part of your policy and you’re the at-fault driver in an accident, you won’t need to worry about a rate increase. But accident forgiveness isn’t available to everyone, to qualify for accident forgiveness you usually need to have a clean driving record, meaning no accidents in your driving history.

→ Read about the best companies for drivers who have been in an at-fault accident

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does an accident stay on your record?

Usually an at-fault accident stays on your driving record for three to five years, depending on your insurance company. As long as you avoid any other incidents, like tickets or crashes, your rates should eventually return to normal.

Can you still get coverage with more than one at-fault accident?

Yes, you can still get car insurance coverage even if you have more than one accident on your record. While it will be harder and more expensive to get covered than it would be for someone without any accidents, there are some car insurance companies, like National General, that specialize in covering high-risk drivers.

How do insurers determine fault for hit-and-runs?

Hit-and-run accidents are different from normal car crashes, since one driver flees the scene. If someone commits a hit-and-run, you can still make a claim with their insurance provider if authorities catch them. However, they may not get caught. In that case, you will have to use your own uninsured motorist protection or collision coverage if you have it. Otherwise, you could be left paying for the damage yourself.

Do at-fault drivers pay a deductible?

At-fault motorists will have to pay a deductible to make a collision claim for the damage to their own cars. If the at-fault driver lives in a state with pure comparative rules for assigning fault, they wouldn't pay a deductible if they wanted to make a claim with the other driver's liability coverage.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Expert reviewer

Certified Financial Planner

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®

Certified Financial Planner

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Kristi Sullivan, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius. Previously, she was a regional consultant at Fidelity Investments for nine years.

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