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Does Fault Matter When Seeking Payment for a Vehicle Accident?

  • The short answer to that question is that, yes, fault does matter when seeking payment for a vehicle accident. It also matters where you live, because different states use different insurance systems that determine how damages are paid based on fault. (For this reason, if you’ve been injured or suffered extensive property damage in an accident, it can be wise to consult a personal injury attorney in your state about the specifics of your case.)

    There are two overarching insurance systems in the country. They are called at-fault and no-fault. Most states follow an at-fault system. Only a dozen states have no-fault insurance laws. These states include Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah.  


    An at-fault insurance system basically means that the driver who was responsible for the accident—the “at-fault” driver--pays the damages. So if you were injured in an accident, and the other driver was determined to have been responsible for causing the accident, your medical bills and property damages would be covered by that driver’s insurance.


    In no-fault states, even if you were not responsible for the accident, your own insurance pays the medical bills for your injuries up to your coverage amount. This insurance, which drivers in no-fault states are required to purchase, is called Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, insurance. No-fault insurance coverage does not apply to vehicle or other property damage.

    Negligence Rules

    Fault also matters when seeking payment for a vehicle accident, because insurance companies look at degrees of fault, or degrees of negligence, in insurance claims and assign percentages. Different states have different negligence rules for how payment is distributed, or not distributed, depending upon the degree of negligence. Types of negligence rules include contributory negligence and comparative negligence.

    Contributory negligence says that if a driver is at all at fault for an accident, no matter how small the percentage, that driver cannot recoup damages from the other driver. Only a handful of states have contributory negligence rules.


    The vast majority of states follow pure comparative negligence or modified comparative negligence rules:


    • In a pure comparative negligence state, you are entitled to damages based upon how at-fault you were. For example, if you got into a $2,000 crash and you were determined to be 75 percent at fault, you could still file a claim for up to 25 percent, or $500, from the other driver’s insurance.
    • Modified comparative negligence allows you to recoup damages from the other driver if you were up to 50 percent responsible (or 51 percent in some states) for an accident. If you were more than 50 percent (or 51 percent) liable for the accident, you cannot recoup damages. This is the most common negligence system.


    Personal Injury Claims

    Another important thing to keep in mind when considering what payment you might receive for your auto accident is that it is more difficult to bring a personal injury claim in a no-fault state. For example, in an at-fault state, you can sue the driver who caused your injuries if the driver doesn’t have enough insurance coverage to adequately compensate you for your damages.

    In a no-fault state, there are qualitative or quantitative thresholds your damages must meet in order to bring a legal claim. Qualitative thresholds looks at the seriousness of injuries, while quantitative thresholds set specific dollar amounts that must be spent on medical costs for injuries before a claim can be made. 

    Using New York State as an example, in order to bring a personal injury claim again the other driver, you must have economic losses that exceed $50,000 or have suffered serious injury. Some of the definitions of what constitutes serious injury under the applicable New York law are significant disfigurement, dismemberment and being fully disabled for 90 days or more. 

    Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney in Your State

    You can see that fault and insurance laws are very complex. To find out what your accident may be worth, consult with a personal injury attorney in your state. If you are in New York, contact the skilled attorneys at Kaplan Lawyers, P.C.