Who Determines Fault in a Pennsylvania Car Accident?

May 24, 2024

When you get injured in a car accident, establishing fault is one of the first steps toward asserting your legal rights. So, who determines fault in a Pennsylvania car accident?

The Police Do Not Determine Fault After a Car Accident

Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not “the police.” While it is important to call 911 from the scene of a car accident—and you are required to call 911 if an accident results in injuries or makes any vehicle inoperable or unsafe to drive—the responding officer’s role is not to determine who was at fault. Rather, the officer’s role is to document the accident and determine if there is “probable cause” to believe that anyone involved violated the law. If the responding officer issues a ticket, the offender’s guilt will be determined in court, but even this doesn’t result in a determination of fault.

Why? Because even if someone violated the law, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she caused (or solely caused) the accident. Various other factors could have played a role in causing the accident as well. As a result, determining fault in a car accident requires a thorough investigation—and this makes it important to contact a lawyer about your car accident as soon as possible.

3 Aspects of Determining Fault After a Car Accident in Pennsylvania

While determining fault is fundamental to asserting your legal rights after a car accident in Pennsylvania, this is also much more complicated than most people realize. Determinations of fault will be made at various stages of the process—and understanding how this works at each stage is critical for making informed decisions about your case:

1. Your Lawyer Will Make an Independent Determination of Fault So That You Can Make Informed Decisions About Your Next Steps

When you hire a lawyer (which you should always do after being injured in a car accident), your lawyer will make an independent determination of fault based on the evidence that is available. This determination isn’t binding—your lawyer doesn’t get to decide who pays for your losses—but rather is intended to help you make informed decisions about your next steps.

In Pennsylvania, you need evidence of fault to file a claim for damages. If you can’t prove that someone else was at fault, you won’t be able to recover just compensation—and filing a claim will be a waste of time. On the other hand, if your lawyer can collect evidence of fault, then filing a claim could be critical for managing the accident’s long-term costs. By hiring a lawyer to investigate your car accident, you can make an informed decision about whether to file a claim based on the facts at hand.

2. The Insurance Companies Will Determine Fault (and Their Willingness to Settle)

If you decide to file a claim, the next step will typically involve dealing with the insurance companies. Many car accident claims are resolved at this stage of the process.

Let’s say you are dealing with a typical car accident scenario: You got hit by a negligent driver, and you need to file a claim with the driver’s insurance company. Once you file your claim, the insurance company will need to determine fault in order to decide whether it is willing to pay.

If left to its own devices, the insurance company will almost certainly deny financial responsibility for the accident—at least initially. But, if your lawyer can present the insurance company with the evidence of fault, this can help steer your claim toward a favorable resolution. If the insurance company acknowledges fault, then the next stage of the process will involve negotiating a settlement amount that represents just compensation for your financial and non-financial losses.

3. If a Car Accident Claim Doesn’t Settle, Fault Will Be Determined in Court

If your claim doesn’t settle for any reason, then the final stage in the process will involve taking your case to court. This is where fault will be conclusively determined for the final time.

To be clear, most car accident cases in Pennsylvania do not go to court. The vast majority of claims are settled through insurance. But, it is important not to settle for less than you deserve—and, whether the insurance companies refuse to acknowledge fault or they refuse to pay the full amount you are rightfully owed, you should be prepared to take your case to court if necessary.

If you end up taking your case to court, your attorney will present evidence of fault, and the defense will attempt to counter this evidence with evidence of its own. Then, after hearing all of the evidence, the judge or jury will render a verdict. If the judge or jury rules in your favor, it will then determine how much you deserve to recover. If the judge or jury rules against you, your lawyer can help you decide whether it is worth filing an appeal.  

How You Can Help Your Lawyer Prove Fault in Your Car Accident

While you can (and should) rely on your lawyer to prove fault after a car accident in Pennsylvania, your lawyer will also need your help. Most importantly, your lawyer will need you to get in touch as soon as possible. After a serious car accident, it is important to investigate promptly, and if you wait to contact a lawyer, it could become much more difficult to gather the evidence needed to prove fault to the insurance companies (or prove fault in court if necessary).

Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer at Drake, Hileman & Davis, P.C. in Pennsylvania

If you need to know more about protecting your legal rights after a car accident in Pennsylvania, we encourage you to contact us. With offices in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Easton, and Stroudsburg, we handle serious accident cases statewide. To speak with a lawyer about investigating your accident as soon as possible, call 888-777-7098 or tell us how we can reach you online now.