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  6.  » How are fault and liability determined after a car accident?

After a serious accident, questions about fault – or liability – are good questions that sometimes require a thorough investigation and complex analysis. Here are some important things to remember when it comes to the issue of determining fault:

#1: The Evidence

The evidence is the most important aspect of determining fault for a car crash. Evidence can be any number of things, including but not limited to:

  • Testimony of the drivers
  • Witness testimony
  • Photographs
  • Video
  • The involved vehicles
  • Crash data obtained from the involved vehicles
  • Other reliable and relevant documentation (e.g., cell phone records evidencing cell phone activity at the time of the crash)

The gathering of evidence should begin as soon as possible. For example, today’s cars often have an installed module known as an event data recorder (“EDR”). This EDR will often preserve information regarding:

  • Vehicle speed
  • Braking application
  • Steering wheel angle
  • Seat belt use
  • Other data points

The data is kept when the vehicle experiences an extreme change in velocity, such as during a crash or when the airbags deploy.

The information on the EDR can be invaluable in determining who is at fault for a crash. It might show, for example, that one driver was excessively speeding. However, EDR data must be accessed by trained professionals using special equipment. If these professionals are not retained early in the case, the evidence may be erased forever.

The sooner the evidence gathering process begins, the more likely important evidence will be located and preserved.

#2: A Judge Or Jury Determines Fault

It is a common misconception that the police determine fault after a crash. You may think that the other person is not at fault because they did not receive a citation.

The fact is that law enforcement, insurance companies, attorneys, drivers, and hired experts, such as accident reconstructionists, can all have opinions and conclusions regarding the issue of fault. But only a judge or jury can provide the ultimate answer as to who is responsible for a crash.

#3: Iowa’s Modified Comparative Fault System

Sometimes the evidence will clearly demonstrate who is at fault for a collision. For example, a security camera from a nearby business may have recorded one vehicle clearly running a red light. Or perhaps a police officer’s body camera records one driver admitting that he failed to stop at a stop sign resulting in the crash. In these situations, the determination of liability is easy.

Other times, the evidence will be unclear or conflicting. Perhaps two witnesses have different versions of what they saw. Or perhaps one driver was looking down while the other driver was excessively speeding. In these cases, it is helpful to understand that Iowa law uses a modified comparative fault system.

If the case cannot be mutually settled, a judge or a jury will be asked to determine who is at fault after considering all the evidence. The judge or jury does not have to conclude that one person is 100% at fault; instead, Iowa law allows the fault to be apportioned or spread between the case parties. Fault can be spread between one, two or multiple parties.

The percentage of fault given to you is important. If you are assigned more than 50% of the fault, you will not recover damages. However, if you are assigned 50% or less of the fault, you will still be allowed to recover damages, albeit at a reduced rate. For example: A jury could find that you were damaged in the amount of $100,000 but that you were also 25% at fault for the crash. In this situation, you would only be allowed to recover $75,000.

Takeaway lesson

It is important to realize that a number of factors will impact liability and fault determinations. If the accident is serious, it is wise to protect your interests by gathering evidence and preparing to fight for your side of the case. An attorney should be contacted as soon as possible.