Thankfully, most people don’t have much experience with car accidents. And while this is a good thing, it also means most people don’t know how to respond when they find themselves involved in a collision or wreck. In particular, there are questions regarding fault, payouts, and who is responsible for what.

If these are the issues you’re dealing with, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to work through some of the nuances of fault and how it’s determined so that you can make the right decisions and hopefully improve your chances of a successful outcome.


No-Fault States vs. Fault States

The first thing to understand is that location impacts the details of your case. Every state has different laws, rules, and requirements in regards to how fault is defined, determined, and assessed. For the most part, states can be split into two categories: no-fault states and fault states.

No-fault states aren’t very common anymore. There are just twelve states that fall in this category. Five of them – Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have what’s known as a “verbal threshold.”

“This means that it doesn’t matter who was at fault for a crash, each person must seek compensation through their own insurance policy’s personal injury protection (PIP) coverage,” Fine, Farkash & Parlapiano P.A. explains. “However, victims who suffer serious injuries can pursue compensation from the at-fault party.”

The other seven no-fault states – Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Utah – have something called a “monetary threshold.”

Most states, however, are fault states. These states use tort liability, which means policyholders at fault in a car crash can be sued by the other driver (and any passengers) for pain and suffering, as well as out-of-pocket expenses.


Finally, there are a few states that are known as “add-on states.”

“In add-on states, drivers receive compensation from their own insurance company as they do in no-fault states, but there are no restrictions on lawsuits,” Insurance Information Institute explains. “The term ‘add-on’ is used because in these states first-party benefits have been added on to the traditional tort liability system. In add-on states, first-party coverage may not be mandatory, and the benefits may be lower than in true no-fault states.”


Different Types of Negligence

To further complicate things, fault isn’t always straightforward. You might think the other driver is at fault, but it must be proven. There are a few different ways fault is determined. Once again, it depends on your state’s laws.

  • Comparative negligence is when drivers are able to seek compensation in proportion to their degree of responsibility. For example, if you’re 40 percent to blame and the other driver is 60 percent to blame, you’re able to seek up to 60 percent of the settlement from the other driver’s insurance provider.
  • Modified comparative negligence is an adjusted method that only permits you to recoup damages if you’re less than 50 percent at fault. In other words, the person who is most at fault is held accountable.
  • Contributor negligence (or pure contributory negligence) is an all-or-nothing method where you can only receive compensation if the other party is 100 percent to blame. This means you need to be completely blameless to receive any money from the other driver’s insurer.


How to Improve Your Chances of a Successful Outcome

If this all sounds a bit confusing, that’s because it is! Trying to determine fault and figure out who what requires extensive experience and careful calculations. And if you want to increase your odds of coming out on the right side of things, you need a plan.

Step one in this plan is to gather evidence and go through all of the proper steps of notifying police, calling insurance, getting medical treatment, and photographing/documenting the scene.

Step two is to hire a car accident attorney with experience in your state. You need someone with an extensive understanding of the complexities of fault, negligence, insurance, and all of the individual moving parts that work together to impact your case.

Step three is to breathe. Car accidents can be tough and you need to focus on healing. Nothing matters more than your health. Listen to your doctors and get plenty of rest. That’s the best prescription for feeling better.