What Happens After A Car Accident That Is Your Fault? (2024)

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 4 mins

When you cause a car accident, you may be liable for the injuries and property damage you caused. If you have insurance, your insurer will likely defend you, providing lawyers if necessary. It may also pay any liabilities resulting from the crash, including the medical expenses, income losses, and property damage the crash victims suffered.

If you do not have insurance, what happens after a car accident that is your fault will be very different. In this case, you have no insurance to protect you. You could end up in court with all of your assets at risk.

Determining Fault for a Crash

Before getting into what happens when you are at fault for an accident, you must understand what “fault” means. Insurers and courts look at whether you acted negligently or intentionally in causing the collision.

Intentional Crashes

Intentional crashes are rare but can happen. A common cause of intentional crashes recently is road rage. If you become so enraged at another driver that you deliberately hit their car, even slightly, you will be legally liable for committing civil battery.

You can even be liable if you intentionally attempted to scare the other driver and they suffered an injury. For example, suppose that you swerved at a driver in a fit of road rage. They swerved and hit a guardrail. Your intentional attempt to scare them is a civil assault and makes you liable for the resulting losses.

Negligent Crashes

The much more common theory used to determine fault is called negligence. Negligence happens when a driver causes injuries by failing to exercise reasonable care. Accident victims can show you breached the standard of care by violating traffic laws. Thus, you will be liable if you rear-ended another driver because you were following too closely and speeding when they stopped for a yellow light.

Victims can also show a breach by proving that you did something unreasonably dangerous, albeit legal. For example, no state has a law against eating while driving. But if your sandwich distracted you from seeing a stop sign, you will bear the liability for the resulting crash.

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

The reason insurers and courts determine fault is to ascertain who pays whom for losses. The idea arises from simple fairness. If someone gets injured by someone else’s actions, the victim should not have to pay the medical bills and wage losses they incurred. To do so would penalize the victim and reward the wrongdoer.

Instead, the law imposes the liability for those losses on the person who caused them. This system penalizes the wrongdoer financially for their actions and ensures victims avoid the burdens caused by those actions.

Losses Recoverable in a Car Accident Case

Accident victims can seek compensation for their economic losses, such as:

  • Past and future medical costs
  • Past wage losses
  • Diminishment in future earnings
  • Out-of-pocket expenses

They can also seek compensation for non-economic losses. These losses relate to the impact of the victim’s injuries on their quality of life. Examples of these losses include:

  • Physical pain
  • Mental suffering
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Dismemberment

For example, suppose someone lost an eye in a crash. They have pain from the injury and suffer mentally from worrying about their eyesight. They suffer partial disability, and their appearance is disfigured. Finally, they were dismembered when they lost function in a body part. As a result, they could show all five of these types of losses in their case.

When you are at fault for a crash, you become financially liable for all of the victim’s losses. To calculate the compensation you owe, you add all the economic losses they suffered and add a fair and just amount for their quality-of-life losses.

Role of Insurance

Auto insurance pays for liabilities you incur up to the policy limits. As a result, insurance coverage can significantly reduce or even eliminate your financial exposure after a crash you caused.

For example, suppose that you carry $35,000 in bodily injury liability and the victim suffered $20,000 in medical expenses, wage losses, and pain and suffering. Your insurer pays the entire amount since it falls under the policy limit. Conversely, if the victim had $40,000 in total losses, the insurer pays $35,000, and you pay the remaining $5,000.

Contributory and Comparative Fault

If a victim contributed to the cause of the accident, many states will reduce their compensation. In contributory fault states, the victim recovers nothing if they are even 1% at fault for the crash. In comparative fault states, the victim’s compensation is reduced in proportion to their share of the blame. A victim 18% at fault for a crash only gets compensated for 82% of their losses.

Learn More About What Happens if You Are Found at Fault in a Car Accident

If you cause a crash, you could face significant legal liabilities. ConsumerShield helps people facing thorny legal matters by connecting them with experienced attorneys to guide and advise them. Fill out our contact form for a free case evaluation and to learn how we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • You will exchange insurance information at the scene. The police will interview everyone involved in the crash, as well as eyewitnesses. The crash report will explain what happened, but most states prohibit officers from assessing fault. Instead, insurers and courts make that determination after reviewing the evidence.

  • Yes, the purpose of liability insurance is to pay for third-party losses caused by your negligence. Claimants and their lawyers will negotiate directly with your insurer to get paid for property damage, medical expenses, and income losses resulting from your actions.

  • The effect of a crash on your insurance premiums depends on your insurer and your state. A few states prohibit insurers from raising rates for victims. Outside of these states, some insurers only raise your rates if you cause a crash, while others raise rates for all crashes.

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