How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?
Automobile insurance can be confusing, especially when regulations and requirements can vary so widely from state to state. What type of insurance is required in the state a person resides in is the starting point in helping to determine who may be at fault in an accident.
Generally, states are either at-fault states or they are no-fault auto insurance states. Other than in the 12 no-fault states, drivers are responsible for the damage they cause in an automobile accident. These at-fault states include Texas.
In Texas, state law requires drivers to be able to pay for the damage they may be responsible for in an automobile accident through a financial responsibility law. This law requires drivers to prove they are financially responsible before operating a vehicle in the state, most frequently through automobile liability insurance.
The minimum amount of liability insurance a Texas driver must have is $30,000 for each injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident, and another $25,000 per accident for property damage. This is often referred to as 30/60/25 coverage.
If you have auto insurance in Texas, it will cover you as you drive through other states and Canada, but not in Mexico where American liability coverage is not recognized. The Texas Department of Insurance has an easy-to-understand “Insurance Made Easy” primer for those wanting to know more.
So, if a driver is responsible for paying for the damage they cause in an at-fault accident, what determines who is at fault?
Fault can most often be decided by seeing what each driver should have been doing in any situation and what the evidence and witnesses may suggest they were doing. While this can be really easy in straightforward incidents, it can be much more involved in more complex accidents.
Drivers, for example, may have to share at least a portion of the fault if they did not try to avoid an accident. They may be found at fault if the vehicle they were driving was not determined safe to operate or if they were impaired in any way. Driver distraction can also be a cause of fault.
Frequently an accident report can help determine fault, especially if a citation was issued in the accident. If a driver is cited for excessive speed or reckless operation, they are likely going to be found at fault in a resulting accident. Drivers turning left into traffic will often be cited in an accident because oncoming traffic generally has the right-of-way.
Another common accident is a rear-end collision. While there is a perception that the following driver will always be found at fault in a rear-end collision, that’s not necessarily the case. If the lead driver backs into the following vehicle, for example, or if it can be proven that the lead car’s brake lights weren’t working properly, the lead driver can also be found at fault. This is why “brake-checking” is such a dangerous practice. It is illegal to intentionally cause an accident, and while the following car may be cited for not maintaining clear distance, the lead driver may share in the fault if it is determined that they intentionally caused the accident.
When a driver is found to be at fault for an accident, it can have serious legal and financial ramifications. Points may be added to a driving record, increasing insurance rates. The insurance company will be responsible for paying the costs associated with the incident. If there is not enough coverage, the driver may be sued individually to recover additional costs. A history of at-fault accidents can lead to license suspension and lay a pattern of recklessness that can work against a driver in any future incidents.
Drivers have a responsibility to drive vehicles that are safe and have insurance coverage and to avoid accidents when possible. They should avoid aggressive driving, driving while distracted, and, of course, should never drive while impaired. This will minimize your exposure as the at-fault driver.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident that was caused by someone’s negligence, contact an experienced car accident lawyer for a consultation.
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