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What Do You Do If You Are At-Fault for a Car Accident?

The Maryland auto accident lawyers at our firm have been involved in literally thousands of auto accident claims over the years.  Our exclusive focus is on victims.  It is, I can tell you, more fun for us than representing defendants.  Most of us started out as defense lawyers.

But people that cause accidents are not criminals.  They made a mistake that any of us could have made.  There is so much information available for victims. But the only ones giving at-fault drivers information is insurance companies.  I wouldn’t trust an insurance company to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

This page will attempt to answer some more frequently asked questions and concerns that arise from drivers who are at-fault in auto accidents.

What If the Car Accident Is Your Fault?

Maryland has a tort law system for fault and liability in auto accidents. This means that one of the drivers in the accident will be “at-fault” and bear the financial responsibility for the accident. As the at-fault driver, you (or your insurance company) will have to pay for all the other driver’s damages (property and personal injury). The collision section of your auto insurance policy will pay for the damages to your own vehicle. If police respond to the scene, you could potentially get a traffic citation if the officer determines that you violated a traffic law (e.g., ran a red light).

What Damages Will Be Covered If You Cause an Accident?

at-fault car accident

What to Do When You Are at Fault?

You (or your insurance company) will be legally responsible for paying all financial expenses and losses that the other driver incurs as a result of the accident you caused. Covered losses and expenses resulting from an accident can include the following:

  • Damage to Vehicle: you will liable for the replacement value OR the cost of repairing the damage to the other driver’s vehicle.
  • Medical Expenses: if the other driver is injured in the accident you will be liable for the cost of any medical treatments related to that injury. This includes both past medical expenses and the estimated cost of future medical expenses.
  • Lost Income: if the other driver cannot work for a time because of the accident you will be liable for lost wages or lost income.
  • Pain & Suffering: the law entitles the other driver to financial compensation for any pain and suffering resulting from physical injuries in the accident. There must be real physical injuries, however. Being upset about the accident is not enough.

Usually, your insurance company will negotiate with the other driver and try to work out a settlement agreement in which a portion of these damages are paid voluntarily to avoid going to court. Calculating some of these damages, particularly things like pain & suffering or future medical expenses, can be complicated. If you want to know exactly how much the other driver might be entitled to you should consult an experienced auto accident attorney.

What About Damage to Your Own Vehicle?

Assuming you have collision coverage on your auto insurance policy (which almost everyone does) the damages to your own vehicle will be covered by your insurance company. Most collision coverage has some type of deductible. This means that you have to pay a certain amount of the damages, after which your insurance will cover the remainder.

For example, let’s say your collision coverage has a $500 deductible and the repairs to your car will cost $4,000. You would pay for the first $500 and your insurance would cover the balance of $3,500. Some policies have higher deductibles. Let’s say your opted for the $5,000 deductible option on your collision coverage (because it made your monthly insurance premium $50 cheaper). If you do $4,000 worth of damage to your car, your insurance won’t end up paying for anything since you are on the hook for the first $5,000 worth of damages.

What Should You Do After an Accident if You Are At-Fault?

The first and most obvious thing to do is to make sure everyone is okay. If there are injuries, call the police and first responders right away. After taking care of that, you will need to exchange information with the other driver. If you are clearly the one at fault, the other driver needs your name and auto insurance information so they can make a claim for damages. If you leave the accident scene without giving this information, you could be charged with a crime.

Defense lawyers would tell you to resist the temptation to admit fault and/or apologize for causing the accident. Even if it is ridiculously obvious that you were at fault (e.g., you rear-end someone stopped at red-right because you are checking Facebook on your phone) you should NEVER admit responsibility, they would say, for the accident. [That is the CYA legal advice.  You could also skip what is in your best interests in terms of liability and just do the right thing and tell the truth.] Try to document the scene by taking pictures and/or videos with your phone. You should call your insurance company and report the accident.

What If You are Only Partially At-Fault in a Car Accident?

In some accidents, one driver is 100% at fault and it is very obvious (e.g., rear-ending someone stopped at a red-light). In other situations, however, both drivers may have some partial share of the blame for causing the accident. Under the law of Maryland, if the other driver has any share of fault for the accident (even if you are 95% at-fault and they are only 5% at-fault) they are supposed to be precluded from getting any damages from you.  This rule is called contributory negligence, and Maryland is one of only a small handful of states that continues to follow this legal rule.

It is different in most other jurisdictions.  Most states follow a more progressive rule called “comparative negligence.” Under contributory negligence, if you are partly at-fault you can still get damages they will just be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you are 20% at-fault in the accident, you damages will be reduced by 20%.

Will My Car Insurance Rates Go Up If I Cause an Accident?

If you are at-fault for an accident and your insurance pays out on the claim, your insurance rates will probably go up. Some insurance companies have different policies or may offer “accident forgiveness” based on past good driving records. Unless something like this applies, however, your rates will definitely increase after an at-fault accident claim.

Can You Be Held Personally Liable for Damages If Accident Is Your Fault?

If you are at-fault for an accident you are legally responsible for damages owed to the other driver. Fortunately, however, your auto liability insurance will step in and assume this financial obligation for you. That’s what we have auto insurance for. The catch is that auto insurance has limits. Some barebones auto insurance policies may have a coverage limit of just $50,000 (or even less). This means that your auto insurance will only pay for $50,000 worth of damages if you cause an accident.

Let’s say your insurance has a coverage limit of only $50,000 and the other driver takes you to court and gets a verdict for $100,000. You would actually be personally liable for the remaining $50,000. The good news is that this situation almost never happens because collecting the remaining $50,000 from a private individual is very difficult. In most cases, the injured driver would simply settle for the $50,000 policy limit and then try to get additional compensation under their own underinsured motorist coverage.

Get Legal Help After a Car Accident

If you have questions or concerns after an accident, you should call a lawyer.  But not us.  We do not defend accident victims.