How do auto insurance companies determine fault?

Car insurance companies determine fault by 1) reading police reports, 2) watching recorded video, and 3) speaking with involved parties. Drivers with at-fault accidents can expect to pay $137.75/mo more for coverage on average. You can still be kind and concerned for the health of the others involved, but what you say at the scene of any auto-related incident can be used against you when the auto insurance claim is investigated.

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Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Jan 20, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Whenever an accident claim is filed, the insurer taking the claim will investigate fault
  • Claims made against coverage options like collision, uninsured motorist, and liability will all be thoroughly reviewed
  • You will be asked to make statements about what led up to the accident whenever you file a claim
  • If a third-party driver files a claim against you, you may be called to explain your version of the events

When you’re growing up, your parents always stress the importance of taking accountability whenever you make mistakes. Taking accountability adds to your character and shows that you’re maturing.

While it’s good not to point the finger or make excuses after you’re guilty of being negligent, admitting fault is the last thing your insurance company wants you to do after an accident.

When you get into a car accident, all of the rules about taking accountability and apologizing for your fault will go out the window.

You can still be kind and concerned for the health of the others involved, but what you say at the scene of any auto-related incident can be used against you when the claim is investigated. Let’s discuss what you need to know about claims investigations.

If you have recently been in a car accident and need better insurance, compare at least three to four policies today! Enter your ZIP code above to begin!

What should you do after an accident?

Two people exchanging numbers after an accident.

The very first thing you should do post-accident is to check if everyone involved is responsive. If anyone requires medical attention, regardless of who is to blame for the accident, it’s your duty to call for help and attend to the injured the best way possible.

The only time fault isn’t relevant is when someone needs emergency treatment.

After you’ve checked on everyone, you then need to take charge and gather all of the important details that your insurance company is going to request.

The information you collect is ultimately what’s going to be used by the insurer to investigate the events leading up to the loss. If you don’t have detailed information, it makes the entire claims process more difficult.

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What shouldn’t you do after an accident?


Many insurance carriers will mail out accident checklists to their clients that explain what they should and shouldn’t do following an accident. It’s important to the carrier because just one statement that you make to a vehicle occupant, a witness, or an officer could be misconstrued to sound like you’re at fault.

You have to collect pertinent information while you’re still at the crash site, but that doesn’t mean you should spill your guts and let everyone know that you were in the wrong.

Avoid saying anything that someone could perceive to mean that you’re taking accountability.

If you say statements like “I’m sorry” or “I shouldn’t have been going so fast,” people might claim you’ve already admitted fault.

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What information do you need to have on hand?

Your claims adjuster will review the information that you collected right after your claim is filed. You obviously don’t have any control over accidents where someone hits you and speeds off, but when you do have control and you can speak with the other driver, you’re expected to be proactive.

If you’ve never been involved in a collision, it can be intimidating when you’re thrown in a situation when you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.

That’s why there are so many accident insurance checklists that you can download and print out. If you have these checklists on standby, you don’t have to worry about forgetting to collect any necessary details.

Here’s some of the information you must provide to file your claim:

  • Driver’s name and date of birth
  • Vehicle make, model, color, license plate, and VIN (if available)
  • Name of occupants
  • Name of registered owner of the vehicle
  • Contact information for driver and owner
  • Contact information of witnesses
  • Damage sustained to each vehicle (pictures if possible)
  • Address or landmarks where accident occurred
  • Insurance company name, phone number, policy number, and term

Why does fault matter?


The fault is crucial when it comes to settling accident claims. You might think that pointing fingers and trying to skew the information so it sounds like the other driver caused the crash is silly, but to insurers, it’s all about allocating as much of the fault as possible to the other driver.

In states with tort auto insurance systems, insurers who cover the at-fault driver will ultimately pay for the damages. They may also pay for physical damage claims and other first-party claims made by their insurer.

If you’re not able to collect from the at-fault driver’s policy, you may be able to file first-party claims, but that’s only if you have the right coverage.

The fault doesn’t matter as much when it comes to paying out claims if you live in a no-fault state. In these states, the driver makes a claim for their injury under their own policy.

They will still file a claim for their damage through the third-party if they damaged their vehicle unless they have collision coverage.

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How will the adjuster determine fault?


Claims adjusters have to use reports and statements to decide who is being honest and who might not be telling the whole truth. Not many people call an insurance company and say they were 100 percent to blame for the events.

Instead, they will explain their version of the events leading to the accident and why their actions behind the wheel were reasonable.

Here are some of the details that can be used to determine fault:

  • Statements from the drivers involved in the accident
  • Witness statements given by people who weren’t in either vehicle
  • Information written on the police report
  • Pictures from the scene of the accident
  • Location and severity of the damage to the vehicles
  • Weather conditions at the time of the loss
  • Dash cam footage or footage from a camera nearby

If you’re allocated a majority of the fault, you’ll have to ask your insurer how much your rates will go up the next year. Once you’ve gotten a quote showing you what your estimated surcharge would be, you can go ahead and get quotes from other carriers.

Use online quoting tools to get instant quotes today and find insurance that you can afford.

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