There are three sides to every car accident: what one driver says happened, what the other driver says happened, and what actually happened. Determining what actually happened and who was at fault is crucial for receiving compensation after a car crash. But sometimes both drivers were partially at fault. In these situations, shared liability can provide compensation for all parties.
If you’re concerned about receiving compensation for an accident you were partially responsible for, it’s best to consult with a car accident attorney to discuss your case.
What is Shared Liability?
Most car accident cases aren’t cut and dry, so it’s not surprising more than one driver can share fault. When two or more parties share fault in a car wreck, it’s referred to as “shared liability.” In these situations, state laws determine how liability is assigned.
In some states, neither party in a shared-liability crash can pursue compensation from the other driver(s) (and the other driver’s auto insurer). In other states, all parties can pursue compensation, so long as one party’s percentage of fault doesn’t exceed a certain level. Fortunately, Arizona abides by a “pure comparative negligence” approach, which means no matter how much responsibility a driver shares, they can still recover compensation.
How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?
You might be wondering, “Why is fault so important in a car accident claim?” Well, the at-fault driver is the party responsible for paying for the damages. In personal injury law, we refer to the at-fault driver as “negligent.” Because the driver acted without regard to other drivers on the road, they must pay the price (literally).
However, when fault is not clear or liability is shared, further analysis is needed to determine who is responsible for paying the damages.
1. The Police Report Established at the Scene
After an accident, the responding officer should provide a police car accident report. This document contains witness statements about the crash as well as a simple diagram of the accident scene.
Based on the responding officer’s first interpretation of fault, the local police may issue a citation to one or more of the parties involved. For instance, if one party was speeding and the other ran a red light, both may receive a citation at the scene. However, a citation alone doesn’t necessarily close the matter—especially when it comes to seeking damages.
2. The Insurance Company’s Independent Findings
Each driver’s insurance company helps determine fault. The auto insurance companies assign each party a relative percentage of fault, based on the driver’s conduct. For instance, let’s say two drivers were involved in a car crash, and both of them were speeding. But one driver was going 25 miles over the speed limit while the other driver was going just 5 miles over the speed limit. The driver going 25 over would likely receive a higher percentage of fault.
The claims adjuster managing the accident claim also bases the degree of fault on the circumstances surrounding the accident in accordance to state laws. So, if local state law bans texting and driving, and a driver was texting at the time of the accident, state law would be taken into account while determining fault.
Insurance adjusters commonly work together across companies (and with their respective clients) to determine each party’s percentage of fault. Each driver may advocate for the lowest percentage of fault with the assistance of their car accident lawyer. In some instances, a party’s insurance company may pay the respective portion of the insured driver’s share of fault.
For example, if Insurance Company A’s driver was 70 percent at fault and Insurance Company B’s driver was just 30 percent at fault, Insurance Company A may pay 70 percent of the settlement, and Insurance Company B may pay the remaining 30 percent to expedite the settlement check timeline.
3. The Guidance of an Attorney
If either driver can’t reach an agreement with the insurance adjusters, the driver can seek legal advice from an attorney. With the help of a lawyer knowledgeable in fault laws, the driver can fight for more compensation in their injury claim. If the insurance companies and legal counsel still cannot reach an agreement, the court will decide who is at fault and to what degree.
In court, a jury listens to both sides of the story and considers all applicable evidence. Then they decide whether one driver was fully at fault or if both drivers shared liability for the car accident and damages. Once a jury determines the percentage of responsibility, the court calculates the resulting damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.
The jury awards a settlement in full. Then, the court issues a judgment that reduces the award by each driver’s percentage of fault. So, if a driver is awarded $10,000 in damages, but was determined to be 30 percent at-fault, their compensation is reduced by $3,000.
Factors That Impact How Fault is Determined
Across the country, numerous factors influence how fault is determined. These factors typically include fault laws, negligence laws, and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.
Fault State vs. No-Fault State
Different states have varying fault laws. In no-fault states, all parties involved in an auto accident, whether at fault or not, must submit their claims to their own insurance companies first. So, even if a driver was rear-ended while sitting at a red light, they still have to file an initial claim with their own insurance company.
In fault states, injured people can directly file their claims with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. Continuing with the above example, this means the rear-ended driver could immediately file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance.
Arizona is a fault state. In other words, in Arizona car accidents, the at-fault driver is the one responsible for paying the damages. In shared liability cases in Arizona, both parties can seek their own damages, but they may be responsible for the other party’s damages as well.
Pure Comparative Negligence
In addition to fault laws, all states have negligence laws. These are laws that define what negligence is when referring to personal injury cases.
Arizona operates under “pure comparative negligence.” This means that as long as a party shares at least 1 percent liability, the other party can recoup some of their damages. For example, let’s say Driver A and Driver B got into a car accident. Driver A shares 90 percent responsibility while Driver B shares 10 percent. With pure comparative negligence, Driver A is still entitled to recover that 10 percent. However, that 10 percent will likely be taken out of the 90 percent they owe.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Most states abide by “modified comparative negligence” or “proportional comparative fault.” Just like pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence allows each party to recover the portion of the damages they sustained, minus their at-fault percentage. The only difference is that if a party is found to be more than 51 percent at fault, they cannot receive compensation from the other party.
Let’s revisit the example from above. Driver B was 10 percent at fault and Driver A was 90 percent at fault. With modified comparative negligence, Driver A would not be able to receive any compensation from Driver B because Driver A was more than 51 percent responsible.
Pure Contributory Negligence
Only a few states abide by “pure contributory negligence.” However, if you live in one of the six states that implement this type of negligence, if you bear any responsibility for the accident, you cannot recoup expenses. In other words, any percentage of fault means you must file a claim with your own insurance policy. In the example above, neither driver would be able to receive compensation from the other, since they both shared some extent of the fault.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Some insurance policies offer personal injury protection (PIP) coverage that helps pay for a driver’s personal injury and property damage costs without regard to fault. Under this type of coverage, the driver files a claim with their own insurance company (up to a predetermined maximum amount of coverage) to receive compensation.
If a driver has this type of coverage and is not entitled to compensation from the other party, either due to fault or negligence laws, their own policy pays for their injuries.
Can Both Parties in an Auto Accident Collect Damages?
Yes, it is possible for both parties in a car accident to collect damages. The accident must have happened in a fault state, such as Arizona. Likewise, the amount of damages each party can recover relies on whether or not the insurance companies can come to an agreement with the drivers.
1. Collecting Through a Car Insurance Claim
Like we mentioned before, each driver’s insurance company helps determine the percentage of fault. Insurance companies also use a formula to calculate the exact compensation amount each driver should receive. While this formula tends to differ from one insurance company to the next, the principle is the same.
First, the insurance company adds the damages from the accident. Then it uses a multiplier of 1-4 to reflect pain and suffering to ballpark an average total cost of the crash. Next, the insurance company and all involved parties negotiate and adjust this amount until they’re satisfied with it. Once they agree on a total amount, it can be divided between all parties in accordance with each party’s percentage of fault.
2. Collecting Through a Lawsuit
If the insurance company and the drivers cannot reach an agreement on fault or the total cost of the accident, a court may need to decide who is at fault and to what degree. Likewise, if a victim believes they haven’t received a fair settlement, their car accident lawyer can file a lawsuit demanding the damages they’re owed.
How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help?
Sometimes, relying on an auto insurance company to determine fault leaves a car accident victim unaware of how much they’re truly able to claim.
A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can uncover vital evidence such as:
- Police accident reports
- Accident reconstruction analysis
- Video or photographic evidence from the scene
- Witness statements
- Electronic crash data (“black box” data)
- Medical records and billing statements
Many cases boil down to a “he said/she said” scenario, especially in a car accident with shared liability. An attorney locates credible and neutral evidence to help demonstrate who caused the crash and who deserves compensation.
Seek Your Free Consultation Today
Have you been involved in an accident with shared liability? Seek legal advice from a trusted law firm with a background in fault and traffic laws. A free case evaluation can help so you don’t have to fight the insurance company alone.