Figuring out whose insurance company will foot the bill for a
fender bender can be fairly straightforward. In a rear-end
collision, the driver doing the rear-ending typically is deemed 100
percent responsible for the accident. His or her
pays the accident victim's bills, up to the policy's limits.
But the claims process gets a lot more complicated when fault is
up for debate.
"Once a loss is reported, the companies conduct a full
investigation into the accident," says Anthony Noviello, assistant
vice president for Amica Mutual Insurance Co.
These investigations are conducted in tandem. If both drivers
are covered by the same insurance company, two separate
investigations still will be made. Each one typically includes
interviewing drivers, passengers and potential witnesses.
Investigations also may involve visiting the scene of the accident,
reviewing police reports and examining the cars in question.
The aim is to determine what percentage of fault will be
assigned to each driver. Once these percentages are set, insurance
coverage is allocated in accordance with the state's applicable
comparative negligence laws, Noviello says.
Some states implement pure comparative negligence laws, which
essentially allow you to recover some damages from the other
person's carrier even if you have been assigned the majority of the
blame. These damages, however, are reduced by your percentage of
fault. For instance, if you are deemed 70 percent responsible for
an accident, you can only recover 30 percent in damages from the
other person's insurer.
Other states follow
modified comparative negligence laws
, which allow you to recover damages only when you're not taking
the majority of blame. In most of these states, "if you're deemed
51 percent or more at fault, you're barred from recovering damages
against another person's carrier," Noviello says.
Here are tips on
what to do after a car accident
The blame game
There's always a chance the two
car insurance companies
won't agree on who is to blame or how to assign partial fault. When
this happens, most companies utilize a process known as
intercompany arbitration. This means the adjusters agree to appear
before a panel, typically comprised of claims representatives from
other companies, to resolve the dispute.
"Based on the evidence presented, [the panel] makes a logical
evaluation of who is at fault," says Stuart A. Carpey, a
Pennsylvania-based personal injury and trial lawyer.
This panel's decision is binding.
Arbitration generally is only binding as it applies to property
damages. You can still negotiate with a claims adjuster over
payment terms regarding personal or catastrophic injuries.
If you ultimately don't agree with the arbitration decision or
cannot come to terms with the adjuster, you can decide whether to
seek legal representation.
A personal injury lawyer may be able to negotiate a settlement
between you and your insurance company regarding the payment of
medical bills or other compensation, such as days you missed work
or pain and suffering. He or she can also represent you if the
dispute goes to court.
Here's what to do before you sue your insurance company.
What a difference a state makes
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), 12
states and Puerto Rico have no-fault insurance laws that allow you
to recover certain financial losses from your insurance company,
regardless of fault. Such laws attempt to minimize insurance fraud
by limiting your ability to recover damages from the other party's
States with no-fault laws include Florida, Hawaii, Kansas,
Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York,
North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah. While the specifics of state
laws vary, no-fault laws generally apply to claims for
Partial-fault claims outside of these limits and property-damage
claims still are handled through intercompany arbitration, through
a lawyer or by going to court.
The III offers an overview of no-fault auto insurance.
What do of you are in an accident
If you get into an accident, it's important to follow proper
protocol. This includes exchanging insurance and contact
information with the other driver or drivers, taking photos of the
vehicles, gathering contact information from witnesses at the
scene, and filing a police report.
It is important to complete all of these steps immediately since
"witnesses move, memories fade, vehicles get sold," says Gregory L.
Bentley, a California-based attorney who specializes in insurance
bad-faith issues and catastrophic-injury claims.
You should notify your insurer immediately following the
Insure.com's car insurance basics article explains what you need
to know about auto policies to make sure you are adequately