How is responsibility in California determined after a car crash? Who is at fault?

Auto accidents usually occur because one or more drivers or have been negligent in some way with respect to the operation of his or her vehicle, and that negligence caused or contributed to the cause of the accident. Drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care while behind the wheel. Obvious infractions or violations of the California Vehicle Code, such as driving in excess of the speed limit, ignoring traffic signals, failing to signal, etc. can be used as evidence of one's negligence in contributing to the cause of a car crash. However, there are other things a driver may be doing which are distracting and unsafe, such as talking on a cell phone while driving (now illegal without a hands-free device in California) or texting or even eating while operating a vehicle. All of these are examples of evidence which may assist the decider in their determination of fault.

Who decides fault? Typically, it is an insurance adjuster, sometimes aided by a police report which is based upon statements from the drivers and possibly witnesses to the accident, physical evidence, such as skid marks on the road, damage to the cars, etc. However, sometimes fault is not easily determined and a car accident case winds up in court, so that a judge or jury can make a fault determination.

Examples of Driver Negligence

You get the general idea here. If you violate the rules of the road, and that negligence causes or contributes to the cause of an accident, you may be found at fault for that accident.

Comparative Liablility

Just a word about comparative liability. In California, like many (but not all) states, if you are in an accident and the other driver was at fault, yet he or she can prove that you were partially at fault, too, any money you receive from the other driver or their insurance company for your injuries will be reduced by your own percentage of fault. It is typically the insurance adjuster who determines fault; however, if the claim becomes a lawsuit and goes to court, a judge or jury will decide apportionment of liability. So, for example, imagine a situation where you are traveling at a speed of 35 mph in a 25 mph zone, and the other driver makes a left turn in front of you, failing to yield the right of way to an oncoming car. If the other driver can demonstrate that your speed was a contributing factor to the accident, you will share the liability. If you would have gotten $10K for your injuries and the adjusters decide that you were 20% at fault because of your speed, your settlement will be reduced by 20% and you will get only $8K. If the other driver who is 80% at fault was injured, he will now be entitled to a settlement, but it will be discounted by 80%, because the accident was still mostly his fault.

For more information on California auto accidents, click on the following articles:

How much can I get for my auto accident claim and injury in California? How much is my case worth?

Can I be liable if my car is rear-ended in California?

My car, driven by a relative, was involved in a car crash in California. Am I liable for injuries and damage to the other person if my relative is negligent?

How do I protect my rights when I'm involved in a car accident in California?

The other driver involved in the car accident in California had no insurance. What is my recourse?

I had a car accident in California, other guy's fault, car totaled, but the driver's insurance company will not cover all costs. What are my options now?