After the dust settles at the scene of a car accident, you may be asking yourself who was at fault. The answer to that question can have wide reaching implications, ranging from who pays for medical bills and car repairs to whether anyone will face criminal charges. The conclusion as to which party is at fault is not always clear cut. Photographs, a police report, witness statements and medical records can help sort out responsibility. However, self-serving statements made by the other driver may lead his or her insurance investigator to construct a scenario that puts all the blame on you.
It’s not uncommon for well intentioned drivers to accept that they are responsible for an accident that they did not in fact cause if information is selectively presented in a certain light. ieve you were “at-fault” for an accident that you didn’t cause. Who caused the accident and who was at fault is sometimes a tricky question to answer after an accident. It is wise to speak with an experienced attorney when there is a fault dispute in a Maryland car accident.
There are situations where determining who made the mistake is clear cut, but insurance companies will find any reason to deny a claim based on fault, especially in Maryland, since we are a contributory negligence state. Baltimore car accident lawyer Randolph Rice discusses this and more.
How Does Fault and Contributory Negligence Work in Maryland?
Determining your degree of fault in a Maryland car accident typically makes the difference between receiving compensation or receiving nothing at all. This strict interpretation of fault means that if you’re injured in an accident, you can’t collect damages if you are found to be even one percent liable for the crash. While Maryland still subscribes to the theory of contributory negligence, most states apply some form of comparative negligence when determining liability and fault.
For example, imagine you’re driving down the street with the right of way and someone pulls out in front of you causing a T-bone collision. Common sense seems to dictate that the driver who ignored the right of way and caused the accident is at fault. However, if it turns out that you were speeding when the accident happened, a judge could find that you contributed to the accident by traveling too fast. In a case like that, you receive nothing.
Maryland is one of four states that still uses contributory negligence to settle accident claims. In these jurisdictions, it is critical to determine who was at fault and to what extent. Your share of responsibility will determine if the other driver’s insurance company will pay for your property damage, medical bills, lost wages or well as pain and suffering. This works both ways. Your level of responsibility can also put you on the hook for the other driver’s damages. This is complicated and hiring an experienced Baltimore car wreck lawyer can make all the difference in whether you recover damages or whether your insurance company winds up paying the other driver’s expenses.
Contributory negligence defined in Maryland as “the failure of a plaintiff to act with that degree of care which a reasonably prudent person would have exercised for his own safety under the same or similar circumstances.” Harrison v. Montgomery County Board of Education discusses the issue of whether common law doctrine of contributory negligence should be done away with in Maryland.
What is “Fault” in a Maryland Car Accident Claim?
Fault is a term used in the legal community to determine who is responsible for the damages and injuries suffered after an accident. Fault is determined by various parties involved in a car accident claim or lawsuit (lawyers, insurance adjusters, judges, and juries) as to who made mistakes and caused the crash.
There are a number of laws and rules of the road under the Maryland Transportation Articles as well as case law from the courts which guide the determination of fault in an accident. These can be complicated and difficult to apply and interpret for anyone who is not versed in Maryland case law and insurance practices.
Examples of Car Accident Fault Disputes in Maryland
There are hundreds if not thousands of ways cars crashes can happen and fault can be determined in Maryland. Some of the most common accident types with liability questions involve rear-end accidents, head-on collision, and left-turn accidents in Maryland.
- Rear-End Collisions: Did the first car back into the second car? Was the second car following too closely?
- Side-Swipe Accidents: Which lane was the first car travelling? Did the second car signal appropriately and enter the other vehicle lane to cause the crash?
- Head-On Collisions: Who crossed the line and exited their lane? Was the car that stayed in its lane speeding? Did the driver who is claiming they were not at fault use headlights and appropriate turn signals?
- Driving the Wrong Way: Was there a sign that indicated the road was one-way only?
- Failure to Yield Right of Way: Was the driver allowed an appropriate opportunity to cross or merge with traffic?
- Left-Turn Accidents: Did the driver making the left turn have an arrow or the expectation to yield? Was the person that was driving straight speeding?
Who Determines Fault after an Auto Accident in Maryland?
Fault can be determined by various individuals throughout the claims process. Often the police will issue a ticket or citation to the driver who the officer believes is at fault. If so, the insurance companies may use other information like photographs and witness accounts to form a final opinion. When you file a claim for a car accident, the insurance company will make its own determination of liability. They can either accept liability or deny liability. If they deny liability, the process often moves into the court system where a judge or jury will determine which party was at fault.
Do the Police Determine Fault in a Maryland Car Crash?
A police officer will typically not be able to determine fault for a car crash. Unless the police officer witnessed the accident, he cannot definitively determine who caused the accident or who contributed to the accident.
However, officers may issue citations at the scene of a crash, especially if there are serious injuries involved. Even if a police officer issues tickets at the scene of the accident, this does not mean the person receiving them is at-fault.
How Fault Is Affected by a Police Report in Maryland
All accident reports in Maryland will include a section that states whether the driver was “at-fault” for the accident. While a police officer may check this box on the form, this will not always be the final word on whether that driver was really at fault for the crash.
Police Report Indicates You Are Not at Fault
When a police officer marks the “at-fault” box on a police report, he is relying on information provided by witnesses at the scene of the accident. If no witnesses are present, the officer must solely rely on accounts from the drivers of the vehicles involved. The physical and emotional strain of a car accident may render initial accounts from drivers unavailable or unreliable.
What is often difficult to determine from accident reports is how the officer reached the conclusion of fault. It’s not always clear if the initial report was determined using accounts from all of the drivers and witnesses or if the officer relied solely on the appearance of vehicle damage.
A good rule of thumb is not to rely on the “at-fault” determined by the police report. Many cases throughout Maryland demonstrate how insurance companies often refuse to accept the “at-fault” determination on a police report and deny coverage as a result.
Police Report Indicates You Are at Fault
If a police report states you are at fault for an accident, this does not mean you aren’t entitled to make a claim for damages. If the police officer did not witness the accident, he or she may not have all the facts to make a final and informed conclusion of fault.
It is not uncommon for a police officer to speak with a limited number of witnesses at the scene. Often, other witnesses or camera footage can be obtained later and proves valuable in determining fault.
Other Driver Is at Fault
When you are not at fault (meaning the other driver is found to be at fault), then you have overcome the first step in the process of determining damages. The second part of the claims process is to determine damages. Damages are a catch-all phrase for the medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering that accumulate in the aftermath of an accident.
Can Fault Be Determined by Car Accident Damage?
Body damage to vehicles can be helpful in determining fault after an accident. However, most insurance companies, judges and juries in Maryland will not rely solely on accident scene photos or vehicle damage to assign fault in a motor vehicle crash.
Proving fault based on car damage can be tricky. Witness accounts, vehicle data, testimony from the drivers and any available camera footage can help paint a more complete picture of who was at fault.
How Fault is Affected by Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance Coverage for Maryland Drivers
What is a no-fault car accident claim? How does Personal Injury Protection (PIP) translate to no fault? Is Maryland a no fault state?
Maryland law requires that each driver who purchases insurance be offered no-fault insurance coverage called Personal Injury Protection, or PIP. The law requires all insurance companies that write policies in Maryland to offer the policyholder a minimum of $2,500.00 of no-fault coverage.
PIP coverage can be a valuable means towards making you whole after an accident. PIP can be used to cover medical expenses as well as 85% of your lost wages. Medical expenses will be fully reimbursed dollar for dollar. Insurance carriers cannot increase your premium for making a PIP claim, so it is well worth using. It’s important to note that PIP is different from liability coverage. Liability insurance is paid by the other driver’s policy to cover your damages, repairs or medical expenses.
What to Do If Your Insurance Company Denies Fault for a Car Accident in Maryland
It may seem obvious to you that the other driver’s insurance company will pay for your damages if you do not believe the crash was your fault. But what happens if the at-fault driver’s insurance company denies coverage and says they will not pay?
You have a couple of options. You can pay for all of your expenses out of your own pocket. If you forgo your claim, you likely will not be able to seek damages at any point in the future. This is true especially if you sign documents finalizing the outcome of the accident in the opinion of the other driver’s insurance company.
Another option would be to contact a Maryland car accident lawyer to dispute and challenge the determination of who was at fault for the accident. A Maryland personal injury lawyer will thoroughly investigate your accident to get you any compensation you may be due.
This includes reviewing accident reports, visiting the scene of the crash, reviewing photographs from the accident and speaking with any witnesses. A comprehensive review of your medical records as well as any treatment sought by the other driver or passengers is also critical. Once the lawyer completes this investigation, he will present this evidence to the insurance claim adjuster.
What happens if the adjuster still denies their driver was at fault, or claims you contributed to the accident. Remember, since Maryland is a contributory negligence state, if they can show that you were at leasta 1% at fault, they will deny your claim, even if their client was 99% at fault. The other driver’s insurance company will likely find any and every reason to minimize and deny your claim.
Experienced Baltimore personal injury attorneys often obtain better settlement results than you could as an individual. Lawyers are also adept at knowing when it’s beneficial to file a lawsuit to try to force the other driver’s insurance company to pay your claim.
A personal injury lawsuit gives your lawyer an opportunity to make a case to a judge or jury as to the merit of your claim and the extent of your damages.
Disputing Fault after a Maryland Car Accident
If you want to dispute fault after a car accident, you may have to ask the courts to make that decision. Insurance adjusters look for every opportunity to deny fault on behalf of their insured drivers in Maryland.
Insurance companies do not want to pay your claim. If you can’t make headway with the other driver’s insurance company, a lawsuit is required to have a judge or jury determine who was at-fault for the accident.
A Maryland judge must be convinced by a preponderance of the evidence that one driver was 100% at fault for the accident in order to pay claims for the other driver.
Speak with an Experienced Baltimore Car Accident Lawyer about Disputing a Claim in Maryland
If your car accident claim is denied the other driver’s insurance company, we can help. Insurance adjusters are trained to protect their company’s bottom line. This means that proving you weren’t at fault for an accident and getting the compensation you deserve can be an uphill battle.
Don’t be discouraged by adjusters who minimize your damages by maximizing your fault. Contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers with Rice, Murtha & Psoras today at (410) 694-7291 to fight for the compensation you deserve after your Maryland car wreck.