Q: How do the police (or a court) determine who's at fault in an accident if both drivers insist it wasn't them and want
compensation for their injuries from the other person?
A: Police may or may not be making a fault determination in this instance. Most likely you will find yourself in front of a judge or a jury, who will make the determination who caused the accident. If you intend to pursue a personal injury claim, it is vital that you immediately consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
A: That is actually a good question. Let me ask an even more important question first. Does the police officer's conclusion as to who was at fault matter in a civil trial? It really does not. Insurance companies are no bound by the police officer's conclusions as to who was at fault for the accident. They get it wrong all of the time because they do not have all of the facts and evidence at the scene to make the call. We have had many clients who are marked at fault because they were taken away by ambulance or helicopter and could not give their own side of the story.
The critical thing to understand is that a jury is not going to be told of the officer's conclusion as to fault in the overwhelming majority of car accident cases in Maryland. So if it is an injury claim, we pay very little attention to the police officer's conclusion and focus on what we can prove.
In property damage cases, the insurance company is going to put a lot of stock in what the police say because it is a shorthand way of determining liability. But you can marshal evidence to overcome that assumption pretty easily in most cases if the evidence is there.
Okay... let's answer your question. The police make the determination based on what they think happen. Different officers have different views on how much evidence they need to draw a conclusion. A court is going to take all of the evidence and assess the credibility of the witnesses and draw a conclusion. In a straight he said/she said case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to make the more convincing case. The plaintiff has to get the judge or jury to believe there is a 51% chance their version is correct and the defendant is liable for the crash.
A: You should have an attorney--if not contact the Md. ASsn for Justice--they give free consults. Much depends on if there was a camera at the intersection; if there are neutral witnesses, the location of damage on cars, nature of the intersection, lights, etc etc--many many factors, and ultimately the credibility of the plaintiff.
A jury can well say 50 50, they can find for a person but assign contributory fault which wipes it out, so usually an attorney will look for a compromise settlement rather than roll the dice.
Nature of injuries can play a role--if the jury thinks a person is a whiny complainer=0
Get the consult
A: "Fault" for an accident is often "informally" determined by insurance companies based on witness statements and police reports. Often, the parties to an accident will simply adopt this informal determination and move on with their lives. In the event one or both parties disagree with this determination, a court action is necessary to make a formal, legal determination of fault. In the court action (lawsuit), the trier of fact (which can be a judge or jury- depending on the amount of damages), will hear and evaluate all of the evidence presented by each side. This evidence will often include photos of the scene, the damage to the vehicles, and the testimony of the parties and witnesses. The parties may even hire experts to reconstruct the accident from the available information. Once all of the evidence has been taken, the judge or jury will make certain findings of fact based on what they believe has been proven. These findings of fact will then be applied to the law governing the safe and legal operation of motor vehicles to reach a finding of fault.
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