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What Happens If You’re At Fault in a Car Accident

Posted On: January 18, 2024
Getting involved in a car accident is stressful, especially if you’re the one deemed at fault. Questions about insurance, legal responsibilities, and the aftermath can be overwhelming. If you’re facing the aftermath of a car accident in Washington, read on for answers to your pressing questions.


What to do After a Car Accident

If you believe, or know, that you caused a car accident, there are important things to do – and not do — in the aftermath.

Do stay calm and stay in place. It’s important not to leave the scene of the accident, especially before police officers or emergency responders arrive. Leaving the scene of an accident will be classified as a hit-and-run and could subject you to face an arrest or serious criminal charges.

Do jot down their license plate number and exchange information. Collect insurance information, phone numbers, contact information, and call 911 for all accident victims involved. Make sure to follow these key steps after a car accident.

Don’t forget to collect evidence by taking photos with your cell phone of vehicle damages, car insurance cards, and any serious injuries, if you’re in a good place to. If you forgot to take pictures after the accident or are not able to, you can still use other forms of evidence such as witness statements and police reports.

Next it’s a good idea to understand exactly how fault is determined in a car accident.


Determining Who’s At Fault in a Car Accident

Auto accidents can happen in many ways for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common causes of collisions are drunk driving, speeding, distracted driving, failing to yield and disregarding traffic signals. In some cases, who’s at fault is clear and obvious. In other cases, it can be a little more complicated.

There are a couple of Washington state laws to understand when determining fault and how these laws can impact you.

  1. Duty of care: In Washington state, this law necessitates that every driver conducts themselves as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. Adhering to this duty is crucial for preventing accidents and ensuring the safety of all road users.
  2. Washington is an At Fault state: Like most states, Washington state is an at-fault or tort state. If you are determined to be at fault in a car accident in Washington state you – or your car insurance – will be responsible for paying the other driver’s damages. The other driver can file a claim with your insurance company for compensation of medical bills, medical treatment, property damages, and more.
  3. Washington Comparative Negligence: Comparative Negligence is a way of deciding how much each person is responsible for an accident. Let’s say there’s a car crash and both drivers did something wrong. Comparative Negligence is used to figure out the percentage of fault for each person. If you’re partly to blame, the amount of money you get is reduced by that percentage. More on this later.


What Happens if You Are Partially at Fault in a Car Accident?

Sometimes, there is more than one at-fault driver in an accident, which is common when more than two vehicles are involved. In these cases, insurance companies will play a heavy role in the fault determination process. Key aspects include:

Claims Investigation: When an accident is reported, insurance adjusters conduct an investigation. They review police reports, interview involved parties and witnesses, and assess damages.

Comparative Negligence: As discussed previously, Washington state follows a comparative negligence system, allowing for the assignment of fault percentages to each party involved. This system ensures a fair distribution of liability based on the degree of fault. This will play into part if you’re only partially responsible for a car accident.

Insurance Adjuster’s Decision: The insurance adjuster’s determination of fault significantly influences the claims process and subsequent settlements. It’s crucial to understand that their decision may be negotiable based on additional evidence and legal representation.


What If You Had A Medical Emergency That Caused the Accident?

Health conditions that can cause sudden medical emergencies can make driving unsafe for the driver and others. If a medical condition, such as a seizure, occurred causing a motor vehicle accident this can be tricky to prove.

Factors like intentional negligence, the medical condition’s contribution to the accident, and the percentage of fault for each driver come into play. In Washington State, the degree of fault matters more than the severity of the injury, following the Pure Comparative Fault Rule.

Additionally, drivers in Washington can use the sudden medical emergency defense if they lost consciousness just before the accident and had no time to react. For this defense to work, the health emergency must occur suddenly, leaving the driver with no opportunity to respond, stop, or lessen the impact of the car accident.

If you experienced a medical emergency before the car accident, we highly recommend seeking legal advice from a personal injury lawyer who can help you defend your case.


You Are Determined to be At Fault – Now What Happens?

Tell Your Insurance Company
Your insurance policy will likely require that you report an accident as soon as you can. Otherwise, you could miss out on coverage. Give them all the information you collected, including the other driver’s phone number, driver’s license number, ID, and any witness statements. This will be helpful for your insurance claim.

Police Might Give You a Ticket
They might give you a ticket for causing the car accident.

Expect a Possible Change in Insurance Coverage
Being at fault does not necessarily mean losing your insurance coverage, but it may lead to increased premiums. Insurance companies evaluate risk, and if you are considered high-risk, your rates may rise. Open communication with your insurance provider is crucial to understanding how your coverage may be affected.

Expect to Cover Medical Bills
In Washington’s at-fault based system, the person at fault is responsible for covering the medical bills and other damages. Typically, your liability insurance should address these costs up to the policy limits.

Being at fault in a car accident can raise numerous concerns, but understanding your rights and responsibilities is key. If you find yourself in this situation, seeking legal advice is the next step to ensure a fair resolution.


Can A Car Accident Attorney Help Me If I’m At Fault?

Even fully at fault for a car accident, it’s important to know you can still get compensation and protect your rights.

While your insurance company manages certain aspects, having legal representation ensures your rights are fully protected. The right attorney can offer valuable guidance, especially when facing personal injury claims, disputed liability, or issues with insurance coverage.

A free consultation with a car accident lawyer will help you understand your options and navigate the legal complexities smoothly.


Get Help After Your Car Accident

At fault drivers tend to think they’re not entitled to any compensation, but that may not be true. You may still be entitled to damages even if the accident was partially your fault.

It’s always worth discussing the situation with an experienced and reputable law firm.

Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler PLLC provides experienced legal representation following serious Tacoma car crashes. We regularly handle all types of traffic accident cases and our seasoned personal injury attorneys can advise you on how best to proceed and what to include in your claim.

To schedule a free consultation, call today at 253-383-5388 or contact our office online.