After a North Carolina car crash, you may need to file a lawsuit against the other driver to recover compensation for your injuries and losses. Our experienced auto accident attorney can help. North Carolina is a “fault” state (as opposed to a no-fault state) when it comes to car accidents. That means you may be entitled to compensation from the other driver if you can prove that he or she was primarily at fault in causing your accident.
But how exactly is fault established in a car accident, and (more importantly) how do you prove who is at fault? Simply put, you prove who is at fault in a car accident through witnesses and evidence. Gathering these witnesses and evidence takes time and persistence, and it begins in the moments after the wreck has occurred.
4 Steps for Proving Fault in a Car Accident
1. Obtain the names of witnesses.
Begin by talking to individuals who are at the scene of the accident, and ask if they saw the accident happen or spoke to the other driver afterward. If so, take down their names and contact information. Do not worry at this point whether they will be a helpful witness or not: that can be sorted out later. Give this list of names to your auto accident lawyer as soon as possible.
2. Gather physical evidence.
An accident scene can be cleaned up in a matter of a few hours. When it is cleaned up, you lose access to valuable physical evidence that can help establish fault. As soon as possible after a car crash, begin taking pictures (with a camera or smart phone) of the accident scene, the location of the vehicles after the crash, damage to the vehicles, and any injuries you suffered. You should also take photographs of any traffic control devices or signs that are present at the accident scene, the road conditions, markings on the road, skid marks, and other observable features about the road and location of the crash. Try to note if the other driver has a cell phone on him or her — if so, your attorney may need to get the cell phone records to determine whether he or she was talking or texting just before the crash.
The gathering of evidence continues after the initial accident scene is cleared up. In the days and weeks after the crash, your attorney may need to determine whether there was a blood test performed on the other driver and, if so, whether that blood test indicated the presence of alcohol and/or drugs. The data from the other vehicles’ onboard computers may also prove important in establishing who was at fault for the accident.
3. Get the police report and ensure it is accurate.
One piece of physical evidence that can be particularly valuable in proving fault in some cases is the police report. The police report should contain the officer’s recollection about what you and other drivers said about the crash as well as the officer’s initial impressions about the cause of the crash. Oftentimes, there will be a rudimentary diagram that helps show what the accident scene looked like. You and your attorney should review this report carefully — especially any statements the officer says you made. If there is an inaccuracy — for example, if you told the officer your light was green but the officer reports that you told him or her the light was red — you should get in touch with the author of the police report right away to correct the inaccurate information. Document what error(s) you find and explain why you believe these to be a mistake. The officer may need to review his or her evidence again (including any voice recordings) before deciding whether to amend the police report.
4. Research traffic laws.
You (or your attorney) may need to determine whether the other driver violated any traffic law before the crash occurred. Traffic violations such as speeding, running a stop sign or red light, or following your vehicle too closely are almost always considered to be incidents of negligent or careless conduct. Before your case is ready for trial, you will want to have established whether a traffic violation did in fact occur and, if so, what role the violation played in causing the accident.
So Who Is at Fault?
Once you and your attorney have compiled a sufficient amount of evidence, that evidence will be examined to determine what caused the crash to occur. In some cases, the evidence you and your attorney have obtained will be sent off to a reconstruction expert or engineer for review. This expert will review the data and evidence available and issue a professional opinion as to what caused the car crash. If there is more than one cause for your crash (such as a driver who is speeding on an icy road and who swerves to avoid a stalled car, thereby crashing into you), the expert or professional may be able to tell you the role each factor played in bringing about the accident.
What If the Other Driver and I Contest Who Was at Fault?
If fault is contested in your car crash lawsuit (and in most cases it will be), the judge or jury will be called upon to decide whether your evidence is sufficient to show that it is more likely true than not that the other driver caused the crash. The other driver would have an opportunity to present evidence showing that you were at fault in causing the crash in some manner. If the other driver is successful in doing so, you will be denied compensation — even if you were not the primary cause of the crash. It is important, therefore, to focus on gathering the witnesses and evidence necessary to place the fault for the accident squarely at the feet of the other driver.
When to Seek Legal Assistance
You should contact a proving fault accident lawyer as soon as possible after your crash to assist you in gathering the evidence you need to establish fault in your case. The North Carolina car accident attorneys at Teddy, Meekins & Talbert, P.L.L.C., can help you do just this. Our firm helps North Carolinians in Cleveland County, Gaston County, Lincoln County, and Rutherford County along with the towns and cities of Shelby, Gastonia, Lincolnton, and Rutherfordton. We will apply our firm’s resources and knowledge to help you pursue the compensation you need if you are injured by another driver. Call our office or contact us online today to discuss your case with our experienced team of car crash attorneys.
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A native North Carolinian and a fourth-generation lawyer, Ralph W. Meekins literally had the desire to help those who are not able to help themselves as well as to be a practical life adviser to people in his blood.