Published On: Tue, Sep 15th, 2020

Can You Sue if a Car Accident Is Your Fault?

Car crashes are unexpected, traumatic, and can be life changing experiences. The consequences of an auto accident can be deadly, but even amongst survivors, medical bills, vehicle repairs, and lost time can be a major financial and physical setback. 

If you caused the crash, it may seem intuitive that the best you can hope for is to have your car insurance cover your vehicle damage, cover the damage you caused to the other car, and not get sued for personal injury! However, evolutions in state law over the past century have made it easier to seek damages even under circumstances in which you were partly or even largely responsible for the accident. The determining factors are if the accident occured in a contributory negligence or comparative negligence state and a fault or no-fault state.

Fault and “no-fault” rules

In a state that practices “no-fault” liability law, which applies to a minority of the states, all car insurance providers must include personal injury protection. This personal injury coverage would be provided by the individual driver’s own insurance company, whether they caused the accident or not. 

It is more likely that you live in a “fault” state, in which the car insurance of the driver who caused the crash will pay for the medical bills, damage, and other mandated compensation of the vehicle or individuals who were struck.

Contributory vs. comparative negligence 

Whether or not the driver at fault in any accident can still sue for injuries or damages will depend on if the accident occured in a state with contributory or comparative negligence laws. In contributory negligence states, which used to be the dominant law of the land the driver who is any way responsible for the accident can not sue for damages or injury under all but very limited circumstances. 

How strict is this rule? As strict as it gets. If you file a personal injury lawsuit in a contributory negligence state and the jury finds that you are even the tiniest bit responsible for what happened (by tiniest bit, think as little as 1%!) then you probably cannot receive any damages and will instead be liable for any damage you caused. Assuming your car insurance has a maximum liability cap of, say, $50,000, then if you are sued for more than that, you will personally have to make up the difference. 

The areas that still utilize contributory negligence laws are:

  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia 
  • Washington, DC

By contrast, comparative negligence states, of which there are significantly and increasingly more, open up all drivers who contributed in any part to the accident to liabilities. The chances are greater that you live in a state which practices comparative negligence. If this is the case, you do have a chance to seek compensation for vehicle damages, personal injuries, medical bills, and even lost wages if the accident caused you to miss work. This assumes, however, that the person or people who are seeking damages from also had some degree of fault in the accident. 

How does comparative negligence work?

Let’s say that you strike a vehicle when you are texting while driving. Because you were texting, and because you caused the accident, you are largely at fault. If the other driver was speeding, ran a red light in the process, or otherwise acted dangerously and did not follow the rules of the road in the seconds leading up to the collision, then that individual shares some of the burden of responsibility for causing the crash. They would then be liable to a certain degree as well for damages or injuries sustained on your part. 

How much can I receive in compensation if I was at fault?

Assuming you live in a comparative negligence state, if you are awarded a certain amount in damages, the court will also factor in your portion of fault. For example, if you are determined to be entitled to $100,000 in damages, and were found to be 20% responsible for the crash, you will walk away with $80,000. 

Follow this link if you need to ask a car accident lawyer more specific questions about your accident.

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