Liability is the foundation of a personal injury lawsuit. In most states, the person responsible for an accident is also responsible for compensating the other person for their losses. Suppose you are at fault for a car accident. In that case, several factors determine how the incident will affect you financially, including the state you live in, the other party’s share of fault, and the severity of the crash and resulting damages. You would likely benefit from speaking with a car accident attorney to better understand your circumstances.
How Is Liability Determined in a Car Accident Case?
The foundation of any personal injury case is a negligence claim. When a severe car occurs, multiple parties conduct independent investigations to determine who was at fault and collect evidence to support that negligence claim. For example, immediately following the case, the police officers that arrive on the scene will investigate and document their findings in a police report. Once someone files an insurance claim, the insurer conducts an investigation, looking for evidence of fault. Additionally, the insurance agency assigns every case to an adjuster whose primary concern is to protect the company’s best interest. Finally, if either party hires an accident auto attorney, they will also investigate. Sometimes these parties come to similar or drastically different conclusions. Either way, the claimant or plaintiff is responsible for proving negligence.
There are three elements to a negligence claim. If someone files an insurance claim or civil lawsuit against you for a car accident, they must prove the following:
- Duty of care. They must show that you owed them a duty of care at the time of the accident. This is typically straightforward because all drivers owe other drivers a duty of care on the road.
- Breached duty of care. They must prove that you breached your duty of care. For example, they need to provide evidence that you violated a road law, such as running a stop sign or speeding.
- Causation. They need to show that your violation of the duty of care caused the accident that directly resulted in their injuries. For example, they cannot sue you for running a red light. However, running a red light and hitting their vehicle is sufficient for causation.
Proving negligence is a necessity in a car accident case. The plaintiff or claimant cannot receive compensation for damages if they do not confirm you are at fault. However, liability may not even be an issue if you live in a no-fault auto insurance state.
What if You Live in a No-Fault State?
Twelve states, including Utah, require licensed drivers with a registered vehicle to carry a no-fault auto insurance policy called personal injury protection. The purpose of PIP insurance is to allow both parties to bypass the question of liability and receive compensation for their injuries. For example, Utah requires a minimum of $3,000 in PIP coverage for passenger vehicles belonging to a Utah resident or a non-resident present for more than 90 days in the year.
Even if you are at fault for the accident, the other party will file a claim through their own PIP policy, and you will do the same to cover your damages. However, should the person suffer more than $3,000 in medical debt and sustain injuries resulting in permanent disfigurement, impairment, or disability, they will meet Utah’s serious injury threshold. No-fault states apply the serious injury threshold to ensure the victims of car accidents have access to compensation for substantial damages. PIP insurance coverage has limitations, including no compensation for property damage or non-economic losses, but the serious injury threshold makes recovering those losses accessible.
Every state has a minimum requirement for liability insurance. If the other party from your accident can access PIP insurance for bodily injury, you will still be responsible for property damage. Your liability insurance should cover it. In addition to PIP coverage, Utah requires drivers to carry the following:
- $25,000 per person in medical coverage for bodily harm if you caused the accident
- $65,000 per accident for bodily injury if you caused an accident where more than one person suffers an injury
- $15,000 in liability coverage for damaged property
If you have the proper insurance and are at fault for your accident, you may face repercussions no more significant than an increase in your monthly premiums. However, it will lessen your insurance company’s responsibility if you are at least only partially responsible for the accident.
What Happens if You Share Liability With the Other Party?
Not all car accidents have a clear path to fault determination. When someone files a civil lawsuit against you, claiming you are responsible for the accident and their losses due to negligent action, you have the right to argue against that claim. A common defense is to expose the plaintiff’s responsibility for the accident. If the other party is at least partially at fault, the damages are not entirely your responsibility. States mandate the laws that govern shared fault for personal injury, and most follow either contributory or comparative negligence, with the latter being more common.
Only a few states follow the rule of contributory negligence. According to this law, a car accident victim can only seek compensation if they bear no responsibility for the accident. Even 1% renders them ineligible for compensation. Most states consider this law too harsh and use comparative negligence instead.
The comparative negligence rule states that accident victims can recover damages if they are partially liable. However, the final sum they receive equals the total damages minus their portion of the fault, represented by a percentage. Additionally, there are two types of comparative negligence:
- Pure comparative negligence states allow accident victims to collect a percentage of the monetary value of damages regardless of their share of fault. However, they cannot be 100% at fault.
- Modified comparative negligence states only allow accident victims to collect compensation if their share of fault is less the 50% or 51%, depending on the threshold set by the state. Most states follow this version of comparative negligence.
Utah is a modified comparative negligence state. If the other party in your case bears more than half the responsibility for the accident, they are not eligible for compensation through the legal system. For example, if the value of damages in your case is $20,000 and the court finds you 40% at fault, the other party would be 60% liable. In that case, you would not be responsible for damages. However, if you are 60% responsible, you would still cover 60% of the damages.
Can a Car Accident Lawyer Help You?
The fallout from a car accident can be financially devastating for everyone involved. If you have concerns about your role in a recent car accident, a personal injury attorney can help you. More than half of all personal injury cases are auto accident claims, which is why personal injury attorneys are well-versed in the state laws that govern these cases. To help you better understand the potential consequences of your accident, you can speak to an experienced attorney at Siegfried and Jensen about the details of the collision and your role in its cause. We charge no upfront fees for your consultation and will answer all your questions about the case. Our commitment is to ensure everyone has access to legal representation when necessary. So contact us today for your risk-free case evaluation and walk away with at least a better understanding of your legal options.