What's an At-fault Car Accident?

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When you are in an accident, the best thing to do is call the police and wait for them to arrive and file an accident report. While you wait, you should take pictures of the accident, the conditions of the road, and any injuries. Once a claim is filed with the insurance company, they will send out an insurance adjuster to investigate the wreck, police report, witness statements and dashcam footage before determining who's at fault.

If it is determined that you are responsible for the accident, you are considered the at-fault driver. The insurance companies will determine responsibility based on the laws of your state and the circumstances of the accident. If you are found to be at fault, you (or your insurance) will be financially responsible to pay for any repairs, replacement, medical bills and property damage you caused. You may be responsible if your actions directly led to a collision — for example, if you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, ran a red light or were distracted by your cell phone. Being at fault for a car accident will likely raise your insurance rates too.

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

If you've been in a car accident, you will need to determine who is at-fault. The other driver and their insurance company may want to place blame on you, so it's important to be able to determine who is responsible for paying for repairs, injuries, property damage and more. When someone is at-fault for a car accident, they were likely being negligent, reckless or careless. Their insurance premiums will most likely increase, and depending on their state, they will be responsible for reimbursing the other drivers for the cost of the accident if they are uninsured or underinsured. If more than one driver is at-fault, each state's negligence laws will help realize each's financial responsibility.

If you have been in an at-fault car accident, it will affect your monthly insurance payments.

Examples of At-Fault Accidents

When a driver is found to be at-fault for an accident, it likely is due to reckless, negligent, or aggressive behavior that puts other drivers at risk. This can be a result of an action they took or failure to take appropriate action. Some accidents are clear in terms of responsibility and liability, while other scenarios may involve multiple at-fault parties.

  • Speeding: When you speed you breach your duty of care to other drivers on the road and potentially endanger others.

  • Rear-ending someone else: Rear-ending another car can happen if a driver is being reckless, aggressive, or careless — or if they are following too closely and can't brake in time.

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs: Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) can result in serious accidents, hefty penalties, higher insurance premiums and even jail time.

  • Failing to obey traffic laws: Moving violations occur when you fail to obey traffic signals and signs. This can include running a red light, failure to yield the right of way, excessive speed, driving on the wrong side of the road, rolling through stop signs and more.

  • Texting while driving: Texting while driving is illegal in 48 states and the District of Columbia. It's not hard to see why: texting and driving is a form of distracted driving that can result in preventable fender-benders and serious wrecks.

How Much Does Auto Insurance Go Up After an At-Fault Accident?

An at-fault accident is a car accident caused by a driver being negligent, and it can raise your insurance premiums on average by 48%. The kind of policy you have will determine what happens if you are found to be at fault. For instance, collision insurance will pay for car repairs or replacement, while bodily injury liability will cover medical bills.

A car accident can raise your insurance premiums for three to five years, on average, depending on where you live and your insurance carrier. Nearly all insurance carriers will see you as a higher risk and will offer higher premiums, especially if you have other infractions on your record.

How Is Fault Determined in Accidents?

Insurance companies determine who is responsible for an accident through the concept of negligence. When one driver fails to act reasonably or responsibly, they may be found to be negligent. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance provider may use "comparative negligence" to assign a percentage of fault to each party, which can impact your payout depending on how your actions contributed to the accident. If a driver is found to be at-fault, their insurance provider will pay for any repairs, medical costs, property damage and more.

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How Fault Affects Your Car Accident Settlement

Type of Negligence

What It Means

Active in How Many States?

Pure Comparative Negligence

Drivers can recover compensation for any damages up to their degree of fault.


Modified Comparative Negligence

Drivers can recover compensation if their degree of fault is under a set threshold, which can vary from state to state.


Slight-Gross Comparative Negligence

Drivers can recover compensation if they were slightly at fault, and the other driver was grossly at fault.


Contributory Negligence

If drivers contributed to the accident in any way, even 1%, they are legally prohibited from recovering any compensation.

4 plus the District of Columbia

Tips To Lower Your Auto Insurance After an At-Fault Accident

If you recently filed an at-fault claim with your auto insurance provider, you may be eager to learn how to lower your car insurance premiums. Any time you are involved in a wreck your rates may go up if the insurance company considers you a higher risk. Here are several tips to lower your monthly payments after an at-fault accident.

  • Compare quotes from other auto insurance carriers — Insurance companies vary their rates for at-fault drivers. If you're not happy with your current rate, you can compare quotes from several other providers.

  • Trim your comprehensive coverage and/or raise deductibles — As long as you meet the minimum amount of auto insurance coverage as required by your state, the amount and type of coverage can be reduced or removed to lower your premium. You can also raise your deductible for collision and comprehensive coverages to lower your payments.

  • Go to driving school — Many insurance providers will offer discounts after attending an approved defensive driving class or driver education class. You can take the class from the convenience of your own home computer.

  • Ask your provider for discounts — Some insurance companies will offer discounts if you set up auto-pay, if you bundle different insurance policies, go paperless, and more. By speaking with your insurer directly, you may be able to lower your premiums for other discounts, based on your profession or grades in school.

  • Look into accident forgiveness — You may be eligible if this is your first accident claim or if you have not had an accident in three to five years.

  • Practice safe driving — The most surefire way to lower your rates is to maintain an accident-free driving record for at least three to five years. Over time, without additional infractions, your rates will go back down.

When someone is at-fault for a car accident, they were likely being negligent, reckless or careless.


What is the meaning of an at-fault accident?

An at-fault accident means that the driver was negligent or careless. For example, if you fail to yield the right of way, resulting in an accident.

Will my insurance pay if it was my fault?

Yes, in most states, if you were in an at-fault car accident, your liability insurance would pay for the other drivers' car repair costs, pain and suffering, loss of income and medical bills — including any passengers or injured parties involved. Bear in mind that liability does not cover your costs.

What happens if it's your fault in a car accident?

If you are responsible for a collision, your liability coverage would pay for the other driver's repairs, losses, and any medical bills for anyone who was injured or harmed in the accident. If your limits are too low, you may have to pay out-of-pocket.

Lower Your Car Insurance Rate After an Accident

Car accidents can be overwhelming and taxing, not to mention costly. If you have been in an at-fault car accident, it will affect your monthly insurance payments. However, you can save up to 40% of what most insurers are offering you, if you compare auto insurance rates with SmartFinancial. Enter your zip code below and answer a few brief questions to get started on free auto insurance quotes in your area that are sure to beat what your current carrier is offering.

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