How is Fault Determined After an Automobile Accident?

Anyone who has been involved in an automobile accident appreciates that many complicated consequences can follow. In the most devastating cases, death or serious injury occurs. Hospital, doctor, ambulance and other associated medical costs can mount rapidly. Sometimes, rehabilitative, nursing, home care, and other services will be required. Those who are injured in automobile accidents often must miss work while recuperating and receiving medical treatment. Damaged vehicles must be repaired, and vehicles that suffered a total loss must be replaced. All of this leads to the inevitable question: “who is responsible for all of these costs?” The answer can largely depend on who is determined to be at fault for causing the accident.

Who Determines Fault?

There are two stages at which we often discuss the concept of fault. First, insurance companies will often make their own determinations. As any one of us who drives an automobile in Oregon knows, Oregon law requires liability insurance coverage on all automobiles. However, a liability insurer is not required to pay this coverage unless its insured is at fault for the accident (keep in mind that in this article we are not considering no-fault or uninsured motorist coverages).

Sometimes, fault is clear in an accident, and the insurance company for the other driver will admit liability and pay on behalf of its insured. In other cases, the question of fault is more difficult to determine. In such cases, it should come as no surprise that each liability insurer would prefer to blame fault on the opposing driver. If we are not happy with an insurance company’s determination of fault, then we often must turn to the legal system.

How Is Fault Determined?

Insurance Companies – First, the insurance companies involved will assign adjusters to the case. These adjusters will examine the facts of the accident. This usually includes an examination of the damaged vehicles, a review of the police report, and an examination of the accident scene, if warranted. Adjusters usually take numerous photographs. The adjusters will attempt to interview witnesses and obtain statements. They ultimately compare the physical evidence with the statements to draw conclusions. The more serious the accident, the more intense will be the investigation. For example, in some cases the insurance company may seek the assistance of an accident reconstruction expert, who measures skid marks and considers a variety of factors to estimate the speed and movement of the vehicles. As a note of caution, remember that the opposing driver’s insurer does not have your best interest in mind. Therefore, you should always talk with your own attorney before talking with the other driver’s insurance company.

Trial Jury – While drivers, insurance adjusters, and lawyers may all have their opinions, they may not be able to reach agreement with one another in assigning fault. If the parties and their insurance companies cannot reach agreement, we are lucky in America to have the opportunity to turn to the legal system and impartial juries. After all the evidence is presented in court, the jury will make the final determination both as to fault and reasonable damages. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, while we always strive to reach a fair settlement with an opposing party, we strongly believe in the jury system and stand ready to present a case to a jury to ensure that a wrongdoer is held accountable.

Talk to a Lawyer

Negligent drivers continue to inflict damage and injuries across the State of Oregon at an alarming rate. Only by holding these wrongdoers accountable for their actions can we make progress in keeping our roads safe. If you have been involved in an automobile accident, please feel free to call us with your questions. And remember, even if insurance adjusters suggest you’re not entitled to recover, our investigation may prove otherwise. Give us a call to discuss the facts of your case.

Helpful Links:

Oregon statute on contributory/comparative negligence - https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/31.600


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