Determining who hit who in a car accident is extremely important. A driver who hits another vehicle or a pedestrian is often at fault for the accident. Police may also cite them for traffic violations. Traffic violations such as failure to yield or driving over the speed limit can also indicate fault.
Determining Fault for an Accident
If Driver A hits Driver B, and Driver A causes the collision, Driver A can be liable for Driver B’s injuries. But Massachusetts operates under a no-fault system for car accidents. Drivers normally approach their own insurance carriers to receive compensation for medical bills.
The state, however, provides exceptions to no-fault. Motorists whose injuries result in a minimum of $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses or whose injuries include broken bone(s), substantial hearing or eyesight loss, or permanent and serious disfigurement, or both, can approach either the at-fault party’s insurance company (a third-party claim) or file a personal injury suit in civil court, rather than staying within no-fault.
Stepping outside of the no-fault system is advantageous for injured people, for several reasons.
- First, your own car insurance policy is subject to certain limits. Given the cost of medical treatment today, your medical bills and other economic losses can easily exceed those limits.
- Second, no-fault may not compensate you for all the wages you’ve lost from work or for diminished earning capacity if you cannot work due to your injuries.
- Third, victims who can bring a third-party claim or a lawsuit can seek economic damages for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering related to the injury. No-fault does not allow for pain and suffering damages.
What if Who Hit Whom Isn’t Relevant?
Notice we say that a driver who hits another driver is “often at fault.” The fact is, a car accident’s causes need assessment, and that frequently takes investigation. We can’t always assume that the driver whose car struck another is to blame.
Let’s look at some scenarios.
You are approaching a four-way stop. You stop, let another car go by, and then it’s your turn. You pull out, but another approaching car drives through the stop sign as if it isn’t there.
It’s only natural to assume that the car driving through the stop sign is at fault for the accident. It’s a possible explanation, yes, and if so, that driver could be liable for your injuries if the accident caused them.
But what if the driver tried to stop and found the brakes didn’t work? In that case, the car or brake manufacturer is in part the negligent party, for manufacturing or supplying defective brakes. If the brakes were recently replaced or repaired insufficiently, the repair shop is potentially responsible.
Evidence is crucial in determining an accident’s causes. While who hit who can offer some evidence, it’s not definitive until why and how are added to who. An investigation is needed to determine why Driver A hit Driver B, and sometimes how Driver A hit Driver B.
If Driver B pulled out into traffic when Driver A was just 15 feet away, maybe Driver B is responsible for the accident, even though Driver A hit Driver B—if Driver B was reckless in pulling out before it was safe.
Evidence and causality matter even in one of the most common car accidents, a rear-end collision. Common wisdom holds that a rear-end collision is always the fault of the driver in back. Prudent drivers should keep sufficient distance between themselves and the car in front so they can stop, even if the front car comes to an abrupt halt.
But even in a rear-end crash, assuming the driver in back hit the driver in front isn’t definitive. What if two cars are idling at a red light or in a traffic jam, and the one in front backs up into the other? It happens. While the bumper damage looks like a rear-end collision, it’s the fault of the driver in front. The driver in front hit the driver in back.
How Do I Find out Who’s at Fault in an Accident?
If you aren’t sure what really caused Driver A to hit Driver B initially, how do you find out who’s at fault?
First, if someone is injured or killed, you should call 911 or local law enforcement immediately. Massachusetts law requires stopping at the scene of an accident that causes injury, death, or property damage.
Law enforcement personnel write up a police report. They talk to all drivers and assess the scene and the scenario they see, looking at the damage to the vehicles. They talk to eyewitnesses, if available. They will report on other relevant conditions, such as time of day, weather, and the drivers’ condition(s).
If they see signs of distracted or drowsy driving, they note it. Similarly, if a driver seems like they’re operating under the influence (OUI) of alcohol or another substance, police can test for it. These driving behaviors are very relevant to who hit who, and why, and how.
Describe what happened to law enforcement officials. Your account helps them determine who hit who. If another party, such as a manufacturer, is at fault, drivers’ accounts also help to surface the information. A driver whose brakes failed, for instance, should tell law enforcement what happened.
Second, Massachusetts law requires reporting of any crash where someone was killed, injured, or that caused more than $1,000 of property damage within five days.
Drivers should keep copies of the police report and your own crash report as evidence.
At times, driver accounts of an accident offer conflicting or even inaccurate information. In these situations, law enforcement helps assess what actually happened. In some cases, insurance companies investigate the causes of accidents.
If another driver hit you and caused injuries sufficient to step outside no-fault, an insurance company might refuse your claim if there is conflicting information, or if they believe their insured wasn’t at fault.
You May Need a Car Accident Lawyer to Answer This Question
It helps to consult an attorney if a driver or insurance carrier questions causality. Car accident attorneys work with seasoned investigators. They can pull evidence, such as manufacturer’s records and any available surveillance footage. Forensic analysis, such as looking at the speed and trajectory likely for skid marks or struck objects, can create a virtual picture of the scene—and thus determine what happened.
If you’d like more information about who hit who and why it matters, an experienced car accident attorney can help.