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Posted On April 5, 2016 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Being involved in an accident can certainly seem random, but it’s not chance that causes a motor vehicle collision or a slip and fall. Someone chose to act in a way that put others in danger – whether through reckless driving behaviors or sloppy property maintenance practices.
That someone is at fault for the accident and legally on the hook for paying for all of the damages that resulted from it. And if you want to pursue an accident claim, you need to find out who that person is.
Maybe you’re in the early stages of an accident and trying to prepare yourself for what happens next. Or maybe the other person, company, or insurer is blaming you for the accident, but you believe it’s that party’s fault. Whatever the situation, you need to know how fault can affect your claim, how to determine who is at fault, and how to prove it.
Liability, or legal fault, is a cornerstone of a successful personal injury case.
You can only pursue a claim against someone who is actually at fault for the accident.
If you’re the one who broke traffic safety laws, then you don’t have a viable case against a driver who didn’t break any laws just because you got hurt, too.
And if you were injured in a slip and fall but there was no safety hazard – no slippery or uneven walking surface – that caused it, you don’t have a claim against the property owner simply because you happened to fall on the premises.
Of course, defendants and their insurance companies know how important liability is in an accident claim. So they sometimes use this fact to their advantage. They may try to convince victims that they’re at fault for the accident, even when the insurer knows it isn’t true.
I vividly remember one truck accident case my law firm handled in which the reversing truck driver struck a (safely and legally) parked vehicle with the driver still inside it. The truck driver’s insurance company actually tried to blame the woman in the parked car for the collision. Apparently, it was her fault for not beeping her horn.
If an insurer would stoop to blaming the victim in such a clear case of liability as this, you can bet that it’s a possibility in your case, too.
Accidents can be complicated. It’s not uncommon, as you’re trying to pinpoint exactly what happened and who caused the situation, to wonder if your own actions contributed to the event.
Trust me, the defendant’s insurance company will ponder this question, too. Maybe they can argue that you should have watched where you were walking, or that you should have yielded to the other driver even when road signs clearly showed that you had the right-of-way – or one of the dozens of other imagined rationales for why you could be at fault.
Remember that an insurer can be biased toward its own self-interest – namely, holding onto its money. Don’t believe everything you hear, especially if it contradicts your own recollection of the accident.
Here are three tips to figure out who is really at fault for your injuries:
1. Try to remember all of the details about your accident – I know it can be tough sometimes.
If you took pictures of the accident scene – which is always a smart decision – look back through them. Your photos might hold the key to proving fault on the part of the other party.
You might see the spill on the floor, the ice in the parking lot, or the cracked sidewalk. Consult any other evidence available, too – like witness accounts or video surveillance footage.
2. Look at any reports of the event. This could mean an accident report written by a police officer or an incident report prepared by a commercial property owner.
While these reports might not determine fault, they can give you a good idea of what an insurer or defendant might say about liability – and what evidence, if any, they have to back up their claims.
For example, if the police report shows that the other driver – and only that driver – got a ticket, the insurer will have a hard time proving its theories about your liability.
Unfortunately, in the case of an incident report prepared by employees of the property owner, it’s unlikely that the document will cast much blame on the owner.
3. Get help attaining any additional evidence in your claim.
Make sure you have as much of your own evidence as possible – especially in a situation where the defendant is also the one preparing the report.
Get a personal injury lawyer involved early on to help you collect any additional evidence before it vanishes.
When you want the most money for your claim, you want a lawyer with decades of experience handling it – period.
If you try to handle the claim on your own, you’ll find yourself floundering through a complex process. With an attorney on your side, you’ll have someone to painstakingly investigate your accident, gather evidence from sources you might not have even known existed, and present that evidence in a convincing demand for compensation.
When you’ve handled as many personal injury claims as my firm has, you learn the most effective ways to prove liability. You find out the importance of beginning your investigation right away. You figure out which questions to ask and what information to demand access to. You even develop ways to handle challenges, like accidents of which a seriously injured victim has no memory.
Did you know there are experts who specialize in accident reconstruction and other very specific, and important, fields? They can recreate the accident to uncover hidden clues about who is truly at fault. We have an entire network of professional resources we can tap into if necessary to learn more about your accident.
Part of proving fault is knowing how the legal system works. We don’t only know what evidence is important and how to get it – we also know when an insurer’s assertion that the other party is at fault really is just another instance of blaming the victim.
Sometimes the cause of an accident is complex. Maybe the other party’s actions played a big role in the event, but yours played a small part, too. If so, you may still be able to pursue a claim.
State laws in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania recognize comparative negligence. This concept means that being partially at fault for the accident can’t prevent you from seeking compensation from someone who is more at fault than you are.
Your compensation can be reduced by the percentage you are considered at fault, but you’re still legally entitled to something.
In my experience, instances of insurers trying to blame victims who were clearly not at fault happen all too often. And if those victims believe these deceptive arguments, they may give up pursuing a claim – which means they never get the justice or the compensation they really deserve.
Don’t become one of these victims. If you think you’re not at fault for the accident, even if the other party is telling you otherwise, it’s worth a call to a personal injury lawyer. You won’t have to pay anything for the consultation, so you really do have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.