Determining Legal Responsibility Following a Car Accident

Although a car accident can occur in a split second, the ramifications can wind up lasting for your entire life.

Determining Legal Responsibility Following a Car Accident

Although a car accident can occur in a split second, the ramifications can wind up lasting for your entire life.

Ultimately, the aftermath of an auto accident centers on the legal concept of fault. The at-fault party (and their insurance company) is responsible for providing financial restitution for damages, injuries, and other expenses. Determining fault is a detailed legal process, but understanding the basics helps you achieve the desired outcome in your auto accident injury case, whether you were injured or need to protect yourself from false accusations.

At Fault: A Legal Concept You Need to Know

Fault determines which party is responsible for what types of payments following an accident. Potential damages an at-fault party might have to pay for include the other party's medical bills, vehicle repair costs, lost wages, and more. The purpose of a car accident lawsuit is to determine which party is at fault.

Some states have contributory negligence, which means both parties can potentially share fault for an accident. Note fault does not have to be shared equally. In these cases, the purpose of a lawsuit is to determine the extent of each party's responsibility.

The Five Steps to Proving Negligence

From the first moment following the initial collision, every action you take plays a vital role in the outcome of your case. Even though an auto accident case can take months or years to resolve, preparation should begin right away.

1. Accident Report

The responding law enforcement officer will prepare an official accident report. It notes basic facts such as the time of the accident, the road conditions at the time, the weather, and the speed and direction of each vehicle. Additionally, the official will record each party's on-scene description of how the accident happened.

An accident report is considered a foundational piece of evidence, used by all parties as impartial, factual information to help build each respective case. 

2. Legal Representation

Hiring an attorney early in the process dramatically increases your chances of winning your case. People who try to represent themselves almost always become overwhelmed.

"Even if the cause of the accident seems incredibly obvious, proving fault in court is an entirely different matter," said Rustin Smith. "Several specific burdens of proof must be met, which requires a thorough understanding of the law."

3. Prepare Witnesses

Impartial witnesses can be a valuable asset in both proving fault and defending yourself against false accusations. An auto accident attorney understands how to find any potential witnesses. Plus, if any witnesses need to testify in court, the attorney can help prepare them for the process, including cross-examination.

Aside from witnesses, your attorney might also decide to contact other parties, such as medical professionals or traffic experts.  

4. Determine the Amount of Damages to Seek

Your attorney will help determine the appropriate amount of compensation to pursue from the responsible party. It is often a delicate balance. If you ask for too much, you could lose the entire case. However, if you undervalue the damages, you might win the case but still not receive enough money for long-term expenses.

Long-term damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and other issues beyond the accident's immediate aftermath. Lawyers will typically work with medical professionals to determine the extent of the injured party's medical needs.

5. Receive Medical Care

Always seek out medical attention, even if your legal case is ongoing. If you put off medical care, your injuries can quickly grow much worse. Don't wait until the case concludes before starting physical therapy and other types of long-term care.

Plus, a documented history of care, starting immediately after the accident occurred, can help prove your case legally. It is a significant benefit when attempting to recover lost wages, medical expenses, and other costs.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the basic concepts of legal fault can significantly help you obtain appropriate financial compensation following an accident and protect you from false accusations. Even if you have been involved in a serious accident, and are facing mounting medical bills, the legal system provides an avenue for recovery.

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