How to Tell Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident

February 2, 2023 | By Nicolette R. Nicoletti
How to Tell Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident

Following a car accident, victims may recover compensation if a liable party caused the accident and injuries, or other damages. However, determining fault in a car accident is not always easy, particularly if the underlying cause is not clear or multiple parties are involved. There are ways to prove liability in an accident and seek compensation from the parties responsible by taking the right steps. For more information, reach out to a car accident lawyer.

What Does Fault Mean in an Accident?

Individuals at fault in an accident are responsible for it and legally liable. If a party is at fault, this party may need to compensate victims for certain damages resulting from the accident, including injuries, property damage, and more. At-fault parties in car accident cases are typically negligent drivers whose behaviors contribute to an accident. Some instances may also involve other liable parties, such as vehicle manufacturers and governments that fail to maintain roads.

Why Proving Fault Is Important

How to Tell Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident

It is important to prove fault in an accident to identify liable parties and help ensure that victims recover the compensation they deserve because of negligent or malicious behavior. In most of the United States, at-fault parties must pay for the losses others sustain in an accident, including drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Accident victims may sustain:

  • Medical bills for immediate treatment
  • Ongoing care
  • Lost wages during recovery or due to disability
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Vehicle repair expenses
  • Pain and suffering that victims experience

In some cases, only one driver may be liable for the accident; wherein the single driver would be entirely responsible for paying compensation. Other occasions may involve multiple liable parties who share fault in an accident. If two or more drivers are at fault, the state where the accident occurred may calculate a specific percentage of responsibility for each party involved using comparative negligence. However, some states have contributory negligence laws preventing victims from receiving compensation if they bear any fault.

By proving fault, it is possible to hold liable parties accountable and keep them from escaping financial responsibility for an accident. Establishing fault and seeking compensation can deter negligent parties from repeating the same behavior and prevent future accidents.

How to Determine Fault in a Car Accident

There are multiple ways to determine fault in a car accident, but the process can be challenging if there are not any witnesses at the scene. The following are some ways to prove fault in a car accident, depending on who is involved:


Two or more drivers involved in the accident may be able to determine fault on their own. Sometimes a driver may admit guilt and agree with the other driver. However, it is important to understand that even if you believe you are at fault for an accident, it is often in your best interest to avoid admitting guilt at any point before consulting with an attorney. Drivers who admit fault may need to pay all compensation for the accident and may be unable to prove that they were not at fault later.

Drivers involved in a car accident should take the time to collect evidence that may prove that they are not liable. This evidence could include photos or videos of the damages involved and the scene of the accident. Witness testimony could also help detail how the accident occurred and who was liable. Drivers must also obtain contact and insurance information from other drivers involved. Additionally, drivers could get a police report that helps prove liability.


It is important for people involved in an accident to report it to the police. Upon arriving at the scene, the authorities will assess it and draft a police report. In the process, the police may draw a rough diagram of the scene and make a note of the damage involved.

The police can also help determine what kind of negligence led to an accident. For instance, the authorities may discover that a driver operated their vehicle while impaired.

Once the police have created an official report, you should obtain a copy. This report could help you further prove liability when negotiating with insurers or filing a lawsuit.


Insurance companies may also need to determine liability after an accident. After you file an insurance claim against a liable party’s insurer, the company will investigate the accident. Insurance companies want to avoid paying large amounts of compensation, meaning they are likely to look for any valid reason to minimize the settlement or deny the claim.

What Happens in No-Fault States?

While most states are fault states, some have no-fault insurance laws that require drivers to carry insurance that helps cover accident damages regardless of fault. Specifically, drivers in these states must have a certain amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that covers medical expenses resulting from an accident.

In an accident in a no-fault state, all parties normally need to pay for medical expenses, such as ambulance and emergency room costs, through PIP coverage. However, at-fault parties in these incidents may also need to pay for the property damages on top of medical expenses.

Keep in mind that PIP coverage requirements vary depending on the state.

Who May I Hold at Fault for a Car Accident?

There are numerous potential liable parties depending on the specific circumstances of the accident and the type of negligence that caused it. In addition to other drivers, some of the potentially at-fault parties in an accident may include:


Some passengers might be liable for a car accident if they performed certain actions while riding. For example, a passenger may be directly responsible for an accident if they interfered with the driver and caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Passengers may also be liable if they allow a driver to operate a vehicle while impaired or otherwise unfit to drive.

Vehicle Owners Entrusting Negligent Drivers

The vehicle owner might be liable for an accident even if someone else was driving it. Known as a negligent entrustment, this is when a vehicle owner permits another person who is unfit for certain reasons to operate their vehicle. For instance, the owner may lend a vehicle to someone who is impaired, incompetent, inexperienced, has a history of reckless driving, or is without a license.


In some instances, parents may be liable for accidents that their children cause. For example, a parent may give an underaged child permission to borrow the family vehicle without a license.

Restaurants and Bars

Bars and restaurants must avoid overserving alcohol to customers to the point where they pose a danger to themselves and others. If the staff at these establishments overserve a customer and know that the customer is likely to drive, and this customer causes an accident, you can hold these employees liable.


Some accidents may involve employees who cause an accident while on the job. If the employee does so while acting within the scope of their employment, the employer may be at fault. For example, a company may be liable if one of its delivery drivers gets into an accident while rushing to make a delivery on time.

Construction Teams, Contractors, and Subcontractors

These parties might be responsible for an accident if their work contributes to unsafe road conditions that lead to an accident. These conditions may include roads with negligent construction, negligently designed construction plans, insufficient or incorrect signage, or improperly stored or used construction equipment.

Road Maintenance Personnel

Road maintenance crews may also be responsible for an accident if they fail to perform sufficient maintenance, neglect to put up proper signage, or include critical warnings for motorists.


Many accidents result from defective products that lead to mechanical failure and a loss of control for drivers. Defective products such as faulty brakes or steering wheels could feature specific design or manufacturing flaws that make their manufacturers liable for accidents.

With so many parties possibly contributing liability to car accidents, it can be difficult to prove fault in some instances. With the help of an attorney, you can identify liable parties and prove fault in an accident more effectively.

What Happens if You Cannot Determine Fault?

Sometimes drivers, insurers, and the police cannot determine fault in car accidents. If this occurs in your case, you may still have specific options.

One potential option might be to file a lawsuit against negligent parties. An attorney may help determine if you have a valid case that warrants a lawsuit. Another option is to continue settling out of court through arbitration, which you may accomplish through a natural arbiter who assigns fault.


How a Lawyer Can Prove Fault

After a car accident occurs and you want to determine who is at fault, you can speak with a car accident lawyer. An experienced attorney who has previously handled car accident cases can assess your case and the facts involved.

Gathering Evidence to Support a Case

If the attorney decides to take on your case, they may help gather and present sufficient evidence to prove your innocence and another party’s liability. This could include all photographic or video evidence of the accident scene and damages, medical bills, witness statements, and police reports. If you cannot obtain this evidence on your own, the attorney can assist with this.

Calculating All Damages

Additionally, a lawyer can help identify and calculate all the damages in your case to maximize your settlement amount. The attorney may be able to quantify all financial losses and pain and suffering for which you can recover compensation.

Negotiating With Insurers

An attorney could also help negotiate with insurers when you are ready to file a claim. This is critical as drivers may admit fault during negotiations and compromise their case, even if they are not at fault. A lawyer can help prepare statements and prevent you from saying the wrong thing to insurers.

If your case does not settle during negotiations, your attorney may file a lawsuit against the liable parties. During this process, your attorney would continue to seek compensation through a trial. If the responsible party acted with gross negligence or exhibited other egregious behavior at the time of the accident, the court may also award punitive damages that punish the defendant and deter similar behavior.

After an accident, you must act fast to prove fault and begin a claim or lawsuit. Every accident case has a limited time before victims cannot recover compensation. This limit is known as the statute of limitations, and it varies from state to state. For instance, the statute of limitations for negligence in Florida is four years after an accident.

Once this date has passed, you may be out of options regarding compensation. Four years might seem like plenty of time to start a case, but that time can pass quickly. The sooner you open a case, the sooner you can seek compensation for mounting expenses resulting from your claim.

An attorney can help you prepare and file a claim or lawsuit before the statute of limitations ends.

Connect With an Attorney to Prove Fault in a Car Accident

Nicolette Nicoletti, Motorcycle Accident Attorney

After an accident that involves you or a loved one, you may be able to prove that another party was at fault and recover full compensation for all resulting damages. If you believe another party is liable for an accident, reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney to schedule a free consultation and discuss a potential case.

Nicolette R. Nicoletti Author Image

Nicolette R. Nicoletti

Managing Partner

Nicolette R. Nicoletti is the founder and managing partner of the Nicoletti Accident Injury Lawyers. She was born and raised in New Port Richey, Florida.  Nicolette attended Genesis Preparatory School and graduated salutatorian of her class.  She then went onto Saint Leo University for her undergraduate education. She graduated magna cum laude from the Honors Program with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.  While at Saint Leo University, Nicolette was President of Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science Honor Society), Secretary of Alpha Phi Sigma (Criminal Justice Honor Society), and an active member of Delta Epsilon Sigma (National Scholastic Honor Society).

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