At-Fault vs. No-Fault States
The stats don’t lie; California consistently ranks as one of the top states for car accidents and related injuries or fatalities each and every year. If you have recently been involved in an accident in CA or another at-fault state, determining who is to blame or “at fault” in the accident is a crucial step toward receiving the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Some states, however, have no-fault policies regarding auto accidents.
While the laws and policies vary from one state to the next, it’s important to understand how they may impact you as a driver should you be involved in a collision. Regardless of where you live, educating yourself on your state’s motor vehicle accident rules, regulations, and laws will save you money and time, both of which are often in short supply following an auto accident.
At-Fault vs. No-Fault States – What’s the Difference?
All states have different laws in place for those filing an insurance claim and seeking compensation for injuries suffered during an auto accident. However, despite these differences in the laws for resolving car accident claims, all states fall into one of two general categories:
- At-Fault: Follows a fault-based system in which injured plaintiffs can pursue compensation from parties considered at fault in the auto accident.
- No-Fault: Follows a no-fault system in which fault in the accident bears no significance when pursuing compensation
In the U.S., fault-based accident and insurance laws are more common than no-fault laws. In addition to California, 37 other states as well as the District of Columbia follow fault-based systems. Conversely, only 12 states follow no-fault-based systems, and many have unique laws in place that often vary greatly from the laws of other no-fault states.
Understanding the difference between no-fault and at-fault laws can help you select the right level of coverage and give you some insight on what to expect should you pursue a personal injury car accident claim.
In an at-fault state, the party and the insurer of the party responsible for the auto accident must pay for the damages or injuries sustained in the accident according to the level of their negligent actions or degree of fault.
Under California law and the laws of other at-fault states, if the party found not at fault isn’t satisfied with their payout from the insurance company of the at-fault party, he or she can dispute the claim or file a lawsuit seeking damages related to loss of income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress. However, liability for the accident must be proven in order to receive any compensation.
In a no-fault state, things work a little differently. In an effort to decrease auto insurance costs by eliminating small claims cases, no-fault states do not require the identification of guilty parties. Instead, each accident victim files an insurance claim with their own insurer.
Through this type of insurance system, each insurance company issues a payout to its policyholder for injuries sustained in the car accident regardless of who was actually at fault. This is known as “personal injury protection,” and it is a required feature of auto insurance policies in no-fault states. Consequently, insurance rates in no-fault states are typically higher than the rates in at-fault states.
Once again, the key difference between no-fault and at-fault states is whether or not victims have the right to sue. In at-fault states, liability for an auto accident plays a critical role in determining who is responsible for paying for the damages sustained by injured parties.
Personal Injury Protection in No-Fault States
For most states, the purpose of a no-fault accident claims system is to minimize the cost of car insurance by reducing the number of small claims made through the court system. Under such a system, non-at-fault victims are not required to prove the fault of the other driver in order to receive compensation. This aspect of a no-fault policy is often referred to as personal injury protection, or PIP.
While PIP policies are commonly misunderstood, they do provide the right to sue, albeit in a limited scope. Under these no-fault policies, individuals can file lawsuits for non-economic damages. Different states, however, have put into place different minimum threshold requirements in order to pursue such claims.
In some no-fault states, the minimum threshold is a monetary figure, such as $100,000. In others, it’s expressed in relation to the severity of the physical injuries suffered. In cases involving catastrophic injuries, litigation may be an option. Nonetheless, while litigation is typically not a part of the process, proper guidance in cooperating with insurers is recommended.
Is California an At-Fault State?
Simply put, yes. If you are involved in an accident in The Golden State, you are entitled under California law to file an insurance claim against the at-fault party for any damages and injuries incurred, provided negligent driving and/or liability can be proven.
Like several other at-fault states, CA uses a pure comparative negligence approach for auto accidents. This means responsibility for an accident can be shared if multiple parties are determined to be at fault. Therefore, you may be entitled to compensation for damages and injuries you may have sustained even if you are partially or fully to blame.
This type of system benefits both parties. Even if a plaintiff is more to blame for the accident than the defendant, a percentage of the awarded damages can still be recovered. For example, if the plaintiff is determined to be 70 percent responsible for the accident and the defendant 30 percent, the defendant will only be required to pay 30 percent of the damages.
Insurance companies determine fault and the degree thereof based solely on available proof. The greater the evidence regarding accident liability, the greater the likelihood of receiving higher compensation. Forms of proof often include eyewitness testimony, copies of police and medical reports, videos and photographs of accident scenes, and driver and vehicle information.
To help fight for your rights and prove your case, it’s important to speak with an experienced car accident attorney. An experienced attorney will be able to review every piece of evidence, no matter how small, to help ensure the most favorable outcome possible.
Filing an Auto Accident Claim in California – How It Works
First and foremost, since California is an at-fault state and requires the identification of a liable party in an auto accident, expensive legal battles can easily ensue in any number of accident scenarios and situations. As fault must be proven, hiring an experienced transportation accident attorney to deal with the various legalities of the case is a must.
In an effort to avoid paying, insurance companies are not very accommodating to claimants in at-fault states. An experienced injury attorney will go to bat on your behalf by filing a strong insurance claim and using their expertise to make sure your case gets off to the best possible start.
In certain cases, an at-fault party may not have enough coverage to completely pay for all of the damages and expenses. In situations like these, having an experienced attorney on your side is even more important in order to avoid having to pay for your bills out of pocket.
As far as filing a claim and dealing with the insurance company goes, your auto insurer will contact you for information regarding the details of the accident and the loss. They may request a recorded or written statement, or in some cases, an examination under oath. Other drivers and witnesses will also likely be contacted as part of the accident investigation. If you have an uninsured motorist claim or medical payments, documentation of any losses due to medical expenses, lost wages, and so on must be provided.
A claim representative should get in touch with you shortly after reporting the loss. In some cases, however, it can take longer (up to 15 days) for them to contact you. If they are unresponsive or you believe they are taking an unreasonable amount of time in settling your accident claim, contact the Department of Insurance or an experienced accident attorney to handle the matter on your behalf and fight for the compensation you deserve.
Determining whether your state uses an at-fault or no-fault system and going through the claims process to receive compensation can be a daunting experience. It is especially stressful to deal with in the immediate aftermath of a serious auto accident. Even in no-fault states with little to no recourse through civil suits, the process of pursuing personal injury or loss claims can be unnecessarily complicated, and the claims themselves are often highly scrutinized.
If you were involved in an auto accident, especially one involving an injury in an at-fault state, experienced legal representation can help you through the insurance claims process and provide the guidance needed to pursue and recover the compensation you deserve.