What Does At- Fault Mean in a Car Accident in Virginia?

What Does “Fault” Mean?

When you are “at fault” for a car accident, you are to blame (liable, responsible) for the accident. When it comes to car accident-related insurance claims and personal injury lawsuits, the at-fault driver is the driver who was negligent. If you did something (or failed to do something) that caused an accident, you are at fault. Examples of driver negligence include:

  • speeding
  • failing to maintain equipment (brakes, for example)
  • rear-ending another car
  • driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI)
  • driving on the wrong side of the road
  • violating a pedestrian’s right of way, and
  • texting while driving.


How Accident Victims Can Hold the At-Fault Driver Responsible for Their Losses

There are generally two ways we may be able to recover compensation for you after another motorist causes a Virginia car accident. We can negotiate an out-of-court settlement, or we can litigate your case by filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.

Depending on the facts of your case and numerous other factors, one of these options may be a better bet than the other for you. In general, it is quicker and easier to negotiate an out-of-court settlement and save the money we would have to spend taking your case to trial. However, if we cannot get a just settlement from the insurance company, negotiating may not be the best route.

Sometimes we have to take a case to court because the insurer representing the at-fault party will not agree to a fair settlement offer.

How is fault determined in a car crash?

Proving fault can be difficult with just anecdotal evidence. But it can be the difference between getting a payout and getting nothing, and it can impact getting cheap auto insurance in the future. When a driver is at least 50% at fault in a car accident, insurers typically increase your car insurance rates.

You can use certain resources to prove your innocence or prove the other driver’s fault.

Police reports

When police are called to the scene of an accident, they create and file an official report. It contains an objective analysis of the situation, including an opinion on who was at fault and whether drugs and alcohol were involved.

State laws

Learning your state’s traffic laws can help you find out if some of the blame falls on the other person involved in the accident. Check your state’s motor vehicle website, your local DMV or your local public library.

Many traffic laws seem straightforward but actually have nuance. For example, if your car hit someone riding a bicycle, it may seem like you’re 100% to blame. But traffic laws might say bicyclists have to stay in a specific part of the road. If you can shift some of the blame to the other person based on your state’s laws, then you might save money in a traffic court case.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you think you might be at-fault for an accident, you should talk to a car accident lawyer. A lawyer can help you settle your settle your case or defend you in court against a lawsuit. Your car insurance company might provide you with a lawyer. Or use Nolo’s directory of auto accident lawyers to talk to a lawyer today.

Recoverable Damages in a Virginia Car Accident Case

When a personal injury lawyer Virginia from our team tries to hold an at-fault motorist responsible for the car accident they caused, what we are doing is pursuing compensation to cover your accident-related expenses and losses.

The damages you can recover in an injury case differ from case to case, but often include:

  • Medical care costs and related expenses
  • Ongoing and future care costs
  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Miscellaneous costs and out-of-pocket expenses
  • “Pain and suffering” and inconvenience
  • Wrongful death damages, when appropriate

Related: How do Virginia Cell Phone Laws Affect Car Accident Injury Cases?

Losses That May Qualify for Compensation

Having an insurance policy may prove helpful when you are at fault in an accident, but be aware that it may not be able to cover the losses fairly. You may not have to pay for anyone’s damages out-of-pocket unless the costs surpass your car insurance policy limits. If an injured driver takes you to court for more compensation than your policy can pay for, you may personally be responsible for their compensation.

If the other driver suffered serious injuries or there were fatalities, you may face a lawsuit. Your insurance company may come to an agreement on a settlement with the injured party, and going to court would not be necessary.

The losses that another driver can get covered by your insurance company include the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering

As for your own damages, if you have collision coverage as part of your policy, it should cover your damages although you will still need to pay your deductible.

Will a no-fault accident affect my record?

Yes, a no-fault accident will go on your driving record. For example, say another driver rear ends your car at a stoplight and the entire back bumper falls off. In that case, you would need to contact your insurance company and file a claim to get reimbursed for the cost of repairs. Because you filed a claim and took money from the insurance company, it will appear on your record, despite the fact that you weren’t at-fault.

Typically, car insurance claims stay on your record for 3-5 years. However, it varies significantly based on the severity of the accident and the state you live in. The table below shows an example of how long different accidents can stay on your record, but note that the times can vary by state substantially.

Accident TypeDuration on Record
No-fault accident3 years
Minor crash5 years
Hit-and-run8 years
DUI10 years

How does it affect my premium?

If you’re determined to be at fault, you’ll see a premium increase at renewal, unless you have accident forgiveness on your policy. How much it goes up depends on the situation. You’ll be informed of these changes once the renewal term is available.

How Does At-Fault Accident Insurance Work?

Insurance companies decide who’s at fault in an accident by relying on the legal concept of negligence. This means that you failed to act in a way that a reasonable person would act if they were faced with the same situation.

Your insurance company might use "comparative negligence" to assign a percentage of fault to each driver involved in the accident, or it might assign "contributory negligence." The payout you receive could go down based on how much your actions contributed to the incident.

Each state is unique, but insurance is fault-based in most states. States in which this is the case are also known as "tort" states.

The insurance company of the at-fault driver pays repairs, medical expenses, and other costs in tort states. Medical costs for the insured person are paid by their insurance company, up to a certain amount in no-fault states. Property damage is covered by the at-fault driver’s insurance.

How can I lower my rates if I’ve been in a no-fault accident?

If you’ve been in a no-fault accident and your rate increases, there are ways to lower it. Here are some of the best ways to lower your car insurance premium:

Bundle your policies

Almost every insurance company offers drivers a discount if they bundle their insurance policies together. If you purchase home, life, renters or condo insurance through the same provider as your auto insurance, you could get a lower rate.

Raise your deductible

Raising your deductible will always lower your insurance premium. So if your deductible is currently $500, raising it to $1,000 would lower your annual rate. However, only raise your deductible if you can afford to pay the extra money out-of-pocket towards a claim.

Shop around

The only way to know if you’re getting the best rate is to shop around and get quotes from multiple providers. It’s possible that another provider can give you a lower rate, or offers more discounts that you can take advantage of.

Look for discounts

Every driver should be taking advantage of discounts offered by their insurance provider. Individual discounts can add up quickly, so it’s an easy way to save money. Here are some of the more common discounts you can ask your provider about to see if you qualify:

Common Discounts

  • Policy bundling
  • Taking a defensive driving course
  • Staying claims-free
  • Being a good student
  • Having certain safety features installed in your car
  • Insuring multiple vehicles
  • Paying your premium in full

Car insurance and negligence

When it comes to car accidents, it is not always clear which driver was responsible. Some accidents are complex and fault is not always obvious. In situations where both drivers are partially at-fault, insurance companies will look at the amount of negligence that each driver had.

Negligence typically falls into three categories — pure contributory, pure comparative and modified comparative. Every state has a different definition of negligence, so where you live and the amount of responsibility you assume in an accident will both impact how your claim is handled.

What happens in a no-fault accident?

Accidents are treated differently in no-fault states. If you’re involved in a crash in one of these states, fault may not need to be determined for bodily injury claims. In these states, drivers must purchase car insurance with personal injury protection (PIP).

Who pays in a no-fault accident?

If there’s an accident between two drivers, each party’s PIP coverage typically pays for their respective medical bills and/or wage loss up to their policies’ limits, no matter who caused the accident.

However, no-fault states may allow drivers who suffer severe injuries to sue the at-fault driver if certain conditions are met. Additionally, the at-fault driver’s insurance typically pays for damage to the other driver’s vehicle and property, just as they would in an at-fault state. This is why drivers in no-fault accident states are still required to carry liability coverage.

What happens if both sides are at fault in an accident?

Sometimes, depending on the individual state’s laws, the insurers from both sides may determine that there is shared blame for the accident. In some cases, if both sides are somehow deemed at fault for an accident, the state’s negligence law will determine the amount of damages awarded to each party for injury or property liability claims.