What Is an At-Fault Accident?

An at-fault accident is a crash caused by a driver's negligence. Here’s how insurers decide who’s at fault.
Kayda NormanOct 4, 2021

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Key takeaways

  • In most states, liability insurance pays for the other driver’s injuries and any damage to their vehicle if you cause a crash.

  • Twelve states require no-fault insurance, which pays for your medical expenses after an accident no matter who’s at fault.

  • Negligence laws vary by state and determine how a driver can seek payment for medical expenses and car repairs.

An at-fault accident is a car accident caused by a driver’s negligence. Legally, negligence is failing to take reasonable care to prevent harm to another person. This could mean you failed to do something, such as stopping at a red light, or you did something careless, like driving while fatigued.

Other examples of negligence on the road include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Speeding.

  • Texting and driving.

Nerdy tip: After an accident, try to stay calm. Check for injuries first. Then call the police, exchange information with other drivers and document the crash. Here’s what else you should do after an accident.

Insurance after an at-fault accident

In most states, the driver at fault will have to pay for the other person’s injuries and any damage to their vehicle. This is covered by your liability insurance, which all drivers must have in every state except Alaska, New Hampshire and Virginia. Virginia waives the requirement if you pay a $500 fee, and Alaska exempts certain drivers. Meanwhile,  New Hampshire drivers must prove they can pay for the other driver's property damage and injuries in an at-fault accident.

However, liability coverage won’t pay for your medical bills if you’re at fault. Instead, your health insurance or medical payments coverage will pay for any injuries you have from an at-fault accident.

Collision insurance, if you have it, will cover damage to your car.

No-fault states

Twelve states don’t assign blame after an accident. Instead, they require no-fault insurance.

No-fault insurance, also referred to as personal injury protection or PIP, pays for your medical bills, lost wages and other expenses no matter who’s responsible for the crash. However, the driver who caused the accident will still pay for any damage to your car.

How fault is determined after a crash

Typically, an insurance adjuster will look at evidence such as police reports, vehicle damage and even weather conditions to determine how much a driver is at fault. Often, both drivers carry some degree of responsibility.

Before reaching a settlement, auto insurers must take into account negligence laws, which differ by state. These laws determine if you can seek payment from another driver after an accident and how much you can request. Different negligence laws include:

  • Contributory: If you’re responsible for an accident, even if you’re only 1% at fault, you can’t seek compensation from another driver.

  • Pure comparative: You can seek payment if you were at fault, but the amount will depend on your degree of responsibility. For instance, if you were 30% at fault for a crash, you can receive payment for only 70% of your vehicle repairs or medical bills.

  • Modified comparative: You can seek compensation as long as you weren’t at fault for more than 50% or 51% of the accident, depending on the state. For example, if you were 60% responsible for a crash, you would not be able to seek payment from the other driver.

  • Slight/gross comparative: You can seek compensation if your negligence was “slight” and the other driver’s was “gross.” There is no set standard for what is considered slight or gross.

Negligence law

States 

Contributory

AL, MD, NC, VA, DC.

Pure comparative

AK, AZ, CA, FL, KY, LA, MS, MO, NM, NY, RI, WA.

Modified comparative, 50%

AR, CO, GA, ID, KS, ME, NE, ND, TN, UT.

Modified comparative, 51%

CT, DE, HI, IL, IN, IA, MA, MI, MN, MT, NV, NH, NJ, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, TX, VT, WV, WI, WY.

Slight/gross comparative

SD.

Nerdy tip: An at-fault accident increases car insurance rates by 53% on average, according to NerdWallet’s rate analysis. The best way to lower your cost is to shop around. Compare car insurance rates with at least three insurers to find the cheapest option after a crash.
Methodology

NerdWallet averaged rates based on public filings obtained by pricing analytics company Quadrant Information Services. We examined rates for 40-year-old men and women for all ZIP codes in any of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Although it’s one of the largest insurers in the country, Liberty Mutual is not included in our rates analysis due to a lack of publicly available information.

These are average rates, and your rate will vary based on your personal details, state and insurance provider.

Sample drivers had the following coverage limits:

  • $100,000 bodily injury liability coverage per person.

  • $300,000 bodily injury liability coverage per crash.

  • $50,000 property damage liability coverage per crash.

  • $100,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage per person.

  • $300,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage per crash.

  • Collision coverage with $1,000 deductible.

  • Comprehensive coverage with $1,000 deductible.

In states where required, minimum additional coverages were added. We added a single at-fault collision costing $10,000 in property damage for drivers with one at-fault crash.

We used a 2018 Toyota Camry LE in all cases and assumed 12,000 annual miles driven.

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