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Road traffic accident claims

Determining fault in a road traffic accident

Determining fault can be a complex process and it isn't always immediately apparent which party may be to blame. Read our guide below to learn how legal liability – or fault – is determined in a road traffic accident.

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The time immediately after a car accident can be distressing and confusing. Those involved in the accident may be injured or shaken up.

However, it’s always important to establish who was at fault in a road traffic accident. Each party’s insurance company will want to know the answer to this crucial question in order to settle which insurer will cover the costs of any repairs. The police may also need to establish who was at fault in case the guilty party has broken the law and may be subject to fines or other law enforcement measures.

Proving fault for compensation claims

Determining fault in a car accident is essential if you wish to pursue a road traffic accident compensation claim. In order to win your case and be awarded compensation, your personal injury solicitors will need to be able to prove that the other party was at least partially responsible for the accident due to careless or reckless driving, negligence or an error of judgement. It may be that the other person acted out of road rage, was speeding or simply didn’t check their mirrors before making a manoeuvre - whatever the cause, if this kind of negligence was a contributing factor in the accident and your injuries, you could claim compensation.

Determining fault by location of damage

When it comes to car accidents, determining fault by location of damage on the vehicle(s) is what many solicitors, courts and law enforcement officials will look at first. Where vehicles sustain damage in an accident or collision can provide vital clues as to what happened.

Crucially, it can be used as proof that one person acted recklessly, carelessly or negligently.

Examples of how the location of damage can provide evidence of fault include:

  • Damage on the driver’s side of a vehicle: This can suggest that the other driver was to blame, particularly if the other vehicle has damage to its front. For example, this can provide evidence that one car pulled out of a junction without checking that the road was clear, colliding with the driver’s side of another vehicle.
  • Damage to the back of a car: In most cases, this indicates that the other driver was to blame, especially if this driver’s vehicle has damage to the front. Usually, a court would rule that the vehicle behind was at fault in this kind of situation. It may be that the driver wasn’t paying attention to the slowing or stopping of the vehicle in front, colliding into the back of that car. Other situations include drivers moving too close to the vehicle in front, or attempting to intimidate the driver in front (for example, to bully them into speeding up or moving over) and ending up too close to react in time to changes in driving speed.
  • Damage to a particular side of a vehicle: Where both cars in a collision are damaged in particular ways, or on particular sides, it paints a clear picture of what happened. For example, if a car in a left turn incident has damage on its front end and the other vehicle has damage to the front-right side, this suggests that the left-turning car was to blame.

Why do I need a lawyer after a road traffic accident?

Cardiff-based personal injury lawyer, Nick Collins, explains the benefits of seeking legal advice after a traffic accident and the various options of compensation that a lawyer can provide.

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How to determine fault in more complicated cases

In some road traffic accident compensation claims, it’s quite easy and straightforward to determine fault by the location of damage. However, not all cases are so cut and dried. It may not be clear what happened, and accounts of the incident may contradict each other. Some accidents involve degrees of blame on both sides, or involve a third or even fourth party.

Several incidents may have occurred in rapid succession, making it difficult to determine who could have acted differently in order to prevent the accident and who was definitely at fault.

In cases where it’s difficult to establish who was to blame, it’s important to seek expert legal advice from a specialist.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers has one of the best respected personal injury teams in the country, with many highly experienced road traffic compensation lawyers working in its offices nationwide. Our car accident claims solicitors have brought successful claims for our clients in all types of cases, from straightforward claims to complicated incidents where determining fault can seem virtually impossible.

Where cases are more complex, with no obvious point of fault, our expert road traffic accident solicitors may choose to consult with an accident reconstruction expert. Such a specialist may create models, analyse data and draw on years of expertise in engineering and physics to produce an Accident Reconstruction Report. This can provide vital evidence which may help your case.

What evidence can I provide to help prove who was at fault?

The motto "always be prepared" should be heeded if you are unfortunately involved in a road traffic collision that is not your fault.

It's important to be ready for the aftermath of a road traffic accident, even if the responsibility seemed clear initially. When the insurance company examines the issue of fault, things can become more complicated than they initially appeared.

If you're able to, you must therefore be prepared to gather as much detail and evidence as possible. This should include:

  • Record the other driver’s details – name, full contact details, vehicle make/model/colour and registration. It's an offence for the other driver to refuse to exchange details following a collision, and if they do refuse, there might be a risk they are not insured, so call the police.
  • Do a sketch of the incident scene – include road markings and signs, noting the position of vehicles before, during and after the collision. If you can take photos, then do so.
  • Take full contact details of all witnesses before they leave the scene.
  • Take a description of the other driver and confirm who the occupants were. Every passenger is a potential witness, either for or against you.
  • Record names and reference numbers of police officers who may attend the scene.
  • Make a note of any CCTV cameras – CCTV cameras on poles or buildings nearby, or vehicles with dashboard cams, may have captured the collision. CCTV usually is only kept for a limited time so there will be a "shelf life" to obtain a copy.

All of the above will assist your own motor insurance company investigate the claim, or potentially defend a claim against you, and also assist a solicitor whom you may instruct to pursue a personal injury claim against the driver you hold at fault.

What if I’m injured and can’t record any details?

If your injuries prevent you from recording any details then your legal representative will likely contact the police for the details of the other driver, contact details for any witnesses to be interviewed, and a copy of the police report.

This can take time, so if you are able to gather at least the other driver’s details to pass on, then do so.

For serious injury claims, your representative may later arrange for an Accident Reconstruction Report, and may interview police collision investigators to assist with further developing the case.

If you do attend hospital then often the ambulance paramedic, hospital admission nurse and/or doctor will ask you "what happened." Try as best you can to recount the same facts and resist the temptation of guessing. The medical records that contain a description of the crash circumstances may later help or hinder your case because those records may be obtained for any litigation.

Liability and proving fault

If the driver at fault admits 'primary liability' for causing the collision, that's not necessarily the end of the story.

They might allege that you were contributory negligent, which means that although the other driver admits 'triggering' the crash, they believe you could have done something to avoid it.

These arguments are typical when a crash happens on a roundabout, road junction or country road.

Again, the early gathering of evidence can help resist a claim for contributory negligence which, if proven, then the percentage of blame apportioned between the parties can equate to reduced compensation. For example, an award of £100,000 could be reduced to £50,000 where both parties accept 50% responsibility.

The driver at fault could admit to a collision having occurred but argue that you did not suffer any injuries as a result. Therefore, evidence obtained early can be helpful, such as the speed of the vehicles, extent of the damage, and what was recorded by any medical professional.

If you have suffered injury but don't attend hospital, then do contact your GP as soon as possible so that a formal entry in your medical records can be made. This can be referred to later on to help prove that an injury was sustained.

It's worth bearing in mind that you may need to attend court to give evidence. Instructing a specialist road traffic accident solicitor is vital in guiding you through this process.

Talk to us about your case

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We are an award winning law firm and have a dedicated team of road traffic accident solicitors to advise and guide you – no matter how complex your situation may be.

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We're able to offer affordable expert legal advice and can provide guidance on all aspects of road traffic accident claims. Our Initial Consultation provides tailored advice on your situation giving you clear guidance and options regarding next steps.

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Speak to one of our road traffic accident solicitors today

Call us now on:   0330 041 5869
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