How fault is determined, why it matters and what you can do to prepare for potential accidents
One of the first things your insurance provider will do after an accident is determine which driver is at fault and the degree to which they are at fault. Whoever is at fault in an accident will be responsible for covering property damages and injuries of both parties ― unless you live in a no-fault state, which we’ll break down below.
Fault laws dictate who pays for claims and how much they’re expected to pay. But those fault laws change from state to state and knowing how those laws will affect you on the road can be tricky. That’s why we’re here. Below, we’ll cover everything from what fault is to how fault is determined to how it affects your premiums.
As we stated above, fault helps determine who is responsible for paying for property damages or injuries in an accident through either property damage liability or bodily injury insurance coverage. How fault is shared relies on whether you get into an accident in an at-fault state or no-fault state.
In at-fault states, the at-fault driver is responsible for covering property damages and medical costs for both parties. In no-fault states, your own personal injury protection (PIP) insurance or medical injury provider will cover your medical bills, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. Liability insurance, on the other hand, pays for the other driver and their passengers after a car accident.
Depending on the state you’re in, you may or may not be eligible for a payout based on the negligence laws and your degree of fault. In Minnesota and Connecticut, for example, you can’t receive any compensation if an insurance adjuster determines that you’re 51 percent at fault or more. In other states, like Maryland, you won’t receive a payout if you share any fault.
Although there are a lot more differences between at-fault and no-fault accidents, there is one important similarity between the two. If you are found to be at fault in an accident, you will have to cover all property damages, regardless of where you live.
That means you should expect the other driver to submit a third-party claim to your provider if you’re at fault in an accident in both at-fault and no-fault states. “Third-party” means that the no-fault driver files the claim through the other party’s provider (third-party) instead of their own provider (first-party).
Even if you’re at fault in an accident, you should still file a claim with your own insurance company as opposed to waiting for the other driver to submit a third-party claim to your provider.
There are a few more differences than there are similarities between at-fault and no-fault accidents, including:
Here is the complete list of at-fault (liability) vs. no fault-states:
|State||At-fault vs. no-fault state law||Local negligence laws||Compensation threshold ― maximum percentage of fault you can have to receive compensation|
|Alabama||At-fault||Contributory||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|Alaska||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|California||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|District of Columbia||At-fault||Contributory||0%|
|Florida||No-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|Kentucky||Choice no-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|Louisiana||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|Maryland||At-fault||Contributory||Driver cannot receive compensation if they share any percentage of fault|
|Mississippi||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|Missouri||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|New Hampshire||At-fault||Modified comparative||51%|
|New Jersey||Choice no-fault||Modified comparative||51%|
|New Mexico||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|New York||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|North Carolina||At-fault||Contributory||Driver cannot receive compensation if they share any percentage of fault|
|North Dakota||No-fault||Modified comparative||50%|
|Pennsylvania||Choice no-fault||Modified comparative||51%|
|Rhode Island||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|South Carolina||At-fault||Modified comparative||51%|
|South Dakota||At-fault||Slight-gross negligence comparative||Compensation only if you exhibited “slight” negligence and the other party exhibited “gross” negligence|
|Virginia||At-fault||Contributory||Driver cannot receive compensation if they share any percentage of fault|
|Washington||At-fault||Pure comparative||Driver’s compensation reduced if they share fault|
|West Virginia||At-fault||Modified comparative||51%|
Drivers can choose between at-fault and no-fault insurance in choice no-fault states: New Jersey, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.3
States with comparative negligence laws allow for partial fault for both parties, which means that you can split the costs according to the degree of fault. Comparative negligence is broken down into two types of negligence:
In these states, you can’t receive any compensation if you’re found to have any level of negligence in an accident.
The process for filing a claim in no-fault states is fairly simple:
The process for filing a claim in an at-fault state is similar to no-fault states. Here’s what you would do if you’re at fault in the accident:
In some cases, it’s very easy to determine fault. Either one driver admits fault in the car insurance claim and police report or the evidence indicates fault. In other cases, it can be tricky, especially if you’re in a state with partial fault laws. In any case, after the insurance adjuster determines fault, your local laws will determine how payments are distributed.
If you find yourself in an at-fault accident, there’s a good chance your provider will increase your premiums. How high your premiums will increase depends on a few factors:
Here are a few average annual cost increases after at-fault accidents from a few top providers:
|Insurance provider||Average annual rates prior to an at-fault accident||Average annual rate increase after an at-fault accident||Rate increase by percentage|
Avoiding accidents, especially at-fault accidents, is a great way to keep your premiums low. If you’re looking for other ways to keep your rates low, check out our complete guide on how to lower your auto insurance costs.
The difference between at-fault and no-fault accidents can determine your premium rates, how much compensation you’re owed (or owe), how complicated the claims process will be and what kind of rights you have in the claims process. Because each state is different, it’s important to know the different types of negligence and municipal laws relevant to your state.
Most accidents will stay on your record for about three to five years. They could stay on your record for longer if you already have a poor driving record.
On average, insurance providers increase annual premiums by 39 percent for drivers in at-fault accidents. Keep in mind that this is only an average as factors like your driving record, the state you’re in and your insurance provider can lead to higher or lower premium increases.
If you hit a legally parked car in a parking lot, you will almost certainly be at fault in the accident. However, if both cars are moving, the tailing driver is usually at fault as is the case in most accidents.
What Is the Difference between No-Fault and At-Fault Insurance States? HG.org Legal Resources. (2023).
State By State Negligence Laws. The Law Offices of Maloney and Campolo. (2020, Feb 14).
What states have no-fault insurance? Nationwide. (2023).