How Do You Determine Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident?

Car accidents occur every day and often result from one or both drivers failing to follow the rules of the road. Last year the total number of car accidents increased by 4.4%,with more people traveling more miles.

Determining fault is critical for legal proceedings and processing insurance claims. It helps assess the damages, injuries, and who is responsible for covering these expenses. The process requires a thorough investigation and seeing where the facts take us. Here are some of the ways fault is determined in a car accident.


Negligence is when one driver fails to exercise reasonable care and causes harm to others or property. Negligent acts include disobeying traffic signals, speeding, distracted driving, tailgating, drunk driving, and reckless driving.

Witness Testimony 

Witness testimony is invaluable when deciding who is at fault for the accident. Witnesses give you information about the conditions at the scene and what happened. These statements offer insights into the drivers’ speed, position, and possible traffic violations.

Police Reports

Police reports are one of the most critical factors used in establishing fault. Anytime a law enforcement officer arrives at the scene, they document everything and put all information into their report. These include interviewing witnesses, documenting/collecting evidence, and evaluating the situation. The officer will assess fault using the information gathered, observations, and common sense. The report gives you the road, weather conditions, statements from both parties/witnesses, and whether a citation has been issued.

Physical Evidence

The physical evidence helps to corroborate what happened during the accident. These include assessing the vehicle damages, skid marks, and final resting position. Reconstruction experts could analyze the evidence and recreate the events leading to the accident. Their findings help to determine how the driver’s actions caused the accident.

Traffic Laws

Traffic laws are used to determine who is at fault. For example, when one driver violates the law by speeding, this could be the cause of the accident. Traffic laws establish rules of the road and promote safety; a violation shows negligence leading to the determination of fault.

Fault does not always rest with a single driver, and in some cases each driver shares varying degrees of fault. North Carolina law stipulates when damages can be awarded to a driver and under what conditions. We recommend speaking with a skilled attorney to guide you.

Lakota R. Denton is the trial lawyer who can help you. He has decades of experience handling car accidents and a proven track record that speaks for itself. Contact Lakota at 828-333-5996 to schedule your consultation with a knowledgeable car accident attorney.


While everyone involved might have their own opinion about what happened in a car accident and who was at fault, the actual first determination is made by insurance companies. Their adjusters take a trained approach to examining the accident, from the parties’ statements to the police and mechanics’ reports. They work with their counterparts to determine who is at fault. However, that conclusion is specific to what the insurance company needs to determine and limit liability with the covered driver. It does not address the totality of responsibility in an accident, which is significant when the damages exceed policy coverage.

Additional considerations are used when determining who is at fault. Depending on what state the accident occurred in, the law could make everyone involved partially responsible by default because of how the law defines accidents under certain conditions. Regardless of what adjusters might conclude, state law has to be followed.


Not all car accidents are totally the fault of one person. In many cases, one action triggers another, and some proportion of fault lies with both parties.

A police report is an objective factor in serious accidents, as the police have no real stake in the outcome of the decision. Their analysis of what occurred during an accident matters. With this in mind, how do insurance companies determine who’s at fault? Many insurance companies use the police report as a definitive observation. They fill in the gaps with witness statements and medical and mechanic reviews. The combination of these becomes the first decision of fault determination.

The parties involved are not legally required to accept the insurance company’s decisions automatically. They can argue that the insurance adjuster’s decision is not what they saw, heard, and experienced.


The priority is to seek out medical attention if you are injured. Refrain from talking to anyone until a doctor examines you. If you must speak to someone like a police officer, focus on providing your identification and proof of insurance. State that you want to talk to an attorney if you are asked anything further. No one can force you to talk about what occurred in an accident, especially when you might be hurt.

Once you file a claim, your insurance company will provide its initial determination, and then you decide with your attorney if that makes sense or if additional steps are necessary.  The first settlement offer rarely represents your actual needs, especially with medical treatment involved. Be patient, make decisions when rested and not in pain, and trust your attorney to work on your behalf.

Attorney Lakota Denton

Attorney Lakota DentonLakota Denton has been practicing in his own firm since 2013, focusing solely on personal injury. He is a member of the American Association of Justice, the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the North Carolina Bar association, the American Bar Association, the National Trial Lawyers, and was awarded Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers, the 2014 Top 40 Lawyers under 40, and the Avvo clients choice award. [ Attorney Bio ]



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