What You Need to Know About At-Fault Accidents

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At-fault accident collision hero

An at-fault accident is a collision that local authorities or your insurance company determine you’re at least partially responsible for. These types of accidents typically result from negligence or careless behaviors behind the wheel.

When you’re at fault, your insurance company pays for the damages, and it’ll raise your rates the next time you renew your policy to help recoup its losses.

Keep reading to learn how insurers determine fault, how where you live affects which insurance company pays for damages, and how car insurance works after an at-fault accident. If you cause an accident, consider comparing quotes from insurance companies known for cheap rates to protect your budget from the inevitable rate increase.

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What Does “At Fault” Mean?

Damaged blue car

Being “at fault” in an accident means authorities determined you caused the crash — usually because of negligent driving. The top six most dangerous behaviors that cause accidents, according to the General Services Administration (GSA), are:

  • Speeding
  • Ignoring right of way
  • Driving left of the center line
  • Making improper turns
  • Passing improperly
  • Following too closely

But different states determine fault differently, so it’s important to understand how your state’s rules work. Here’s how fault differs between at-fault and no-fault states.

At-fault vs. no-fault accidents

In fault, or “tort,” states, your car insurance company will pay for the other party’s injuries and property damage when you’re at fault. If local police or your insurance companies find both drivers at fault, you might be able to claim your damages for the portion you’re not at fault for, depending on your state and amount of fault.

In no-fault states, each driver pays for their own injuries, but the at-fault driver’s insurer covers property damage costs. Some no-fault states allow drivers with severe injuries who meet specific criteria to sue the at-fault driver.

No-fault states are:

How Insurance Companies Determine Fault After an Accident

Damaged cars colliding with each other

Car insurance companies consider several factors to determine fault after an accident, including:

  • Police reports
  • Eyewitness, driver, and passenger statements
  • Evidence from the accident scene
  • Environmental evidence, such as weather, construction, and other factors that could have contributed to the accident

Your state’s negligence laws also factor into the insurance company’s decision. Let’s take a closer look at how these laws differ.

State negligence laws

Negligence laws — which vary by state — determine fault and whose insurance company pays for an auto accident. Five states and the District of Columbia have what insurers refer to as “contributory negligence” laws, while the remaining 45 states have “comparative negligence” laws.

The table below shows which states use comparative or contributory negligence and what the terms mean.

Negligence Law What It Means States That Use It
Slight or gross comparative negligence You can collect damages if you’re slightly negligent instead of grossly negligent. ●      South Dakota
Pure comparative negligence All involved parties can collect damages (except for their fault portion), no matter who’s at fault. ●      Alaska

●      Arizona

●      California

●      Kentucky

●      Louisiana

●      Mississippi

●      Missouri

●      New Mexico

●      New York

●      Rhode Island

●      Washington

Modified comparative negligence — 50% rule You can’t collect damages if you’re more than 50% at fault. ●      Arkansas

●      Colorado

●      Georgia

●      Idaho

●      Kansas

●      Maine

●      Nebraska

●      North Dakota

●      Tennessee

●      Utah

Modified comparative negligence — 51% rule You can’t collect damages if you’re 51% or more at fault. ●      Connecticut

●      Delaware

●      Florida

●      Hawaii

●      Illinois

●      Indiana

●      Iowa

●      Massachusetts

●      Michigan

●      Minnesota

●      Montana

●      Nevada

●      New Hampshire

●      New Jersey

●      Ohio

●      Oklahoma

●      Oregon

●      Pennsylvania

●      South Carolina

●      Texas

●      Vermont

●      West Virginia

●      Wisconsin

●      Wyoming

Contributory negligence You can’t sue the other party if you’re even the slightest bit negligent, even if they’re also at fault. ●      Alabama

●      Maryland

●      North Carolina

●      Virginia

●      Washington, D.C.

How Car Insurance Works After an At-Fault Accident

Damaged car due to an at-fault accident

The way car insurance works after an at-fault accident depends on who’s at fault, your coverages, and what state you live in.

Let’s take a closer look at each piece.

Liability insurance: Covers damages and injuries you cause

Your liability insurance pays for the other driver’s damages when you’re at fault. Bodily injury liability pays for their and their passenger’s injuries (or injuries to pedestrians), while property damage liability pays for any vehicle or property damage you cause. In no-fault states, you’re only responsible for property damage you cause.

Collision insurance: Covers damage to your vehicle

Collision coverage pays for your vehicle’s damage after an accident, regardless of fault. But if you’re not at fault in the accident, it’s a good idea to file a property damage claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company so you don’t have to pay your collision deductible.

If you have a liability-only policy and are at fault, there’s no coverage for your vehicle damage.

Personal injury protection: Covers your medical bills

Drivers in no-fault states must carry personal injury protection (PIP) to pay for their own injuries, lost wages, and medical expenses. But you can sue the at-fault driver if you have severe injuries or the cost of your medical bills exceeds the state’s monetary threshold, which varies by state.

Some at-fault states — Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, and Washington — also mandate PIP coverage, but a few others allow you to opt out. PIP will pay regardless of fault, and you can still collect under bodily injury liability in some states if the other driver is at fault.

Getting paid after an at-fault accident

If you’re not at fault in the accident, you should file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to avoid paying your collision or uninsured motorist deductible. If you file a claim with your own company, you might not get the money back, even if your insurer goes after theirs for damages.

If you’re at fault, file with your insurer to cover your vehicle damage and injuries. Depending on your state, you might file a claim for injuries under your policy and the at-fault driver’s policy for property damage. If you meet medical cost thresholds, you might be able to sue the at-fault driver, too.

Each state has a statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage claims, ranging from one to 10 years from the date of the accident. File a claim as soon as possible to get the best chance of approval and the maximum payout.

How an At-Fault Accident Affects Your Car Insurance Rates

An at-fault accident will raise your car insurance rates by an average of 34%, according to Compare.com data. You’ll see the rate increase at your next policy renewal. If you have accident forgiveness at the time of the accident, you can avoid a rate increase, but you might lose the safe driver discount.

After an accident, it’s a good time to shop around and compare car insurance quotes. Every insurer has its own algorithm to determine rates, which might help you get a comparable price to what you were paying before the accident. Some insurance companies also specialize in high-risk drivers who might offer cheaper rates after an at-fault accident.

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At-Fault Car Accident FAQs

Check out the answers below to common questions about at-fault car accidents to understand what to do after an accident and how it might affect you.

Does your insurance go up after a claim that is not your fault?

It depends. Any claim you file could cause your insurance to go up, even if you’re not at fault. Insurers consider factors like your claims history, type, and payouts to determine rate changes.

Auto insurance premiums increase by an average of 34% after an at-fault accident, according to Compare.com data, but you could experience a rate increase even if you didn’t cause the accident, depending on the insurance company, state, and situation.

Should you admit it was your fault in a car accident?

Many legal experts recommend never admitting fault in a car accident. It usually makes sense to let the police or insurance adjuster review the facts and evidence of the incident to determine who was at fault.

Who pays for damages in a no-fault accident?

It depends on the state. In a no-fault accident or no-fault state, each driver pays for their own damages, so you’d file a claim with your own insurance company to cover your losses. In some states, you can sue the at-fault driver if your injuries are severe or exceed a certain amount, which varies by state.

What happens if both sides are at fault in an auto accident?

It depends on your state’s negligence laws. For example, if authorities find you even 1% at fault in a contributory negligence state, you must pay for your own damages. But in comparative negligence states, you can usually collect damages if you aren’t more than 50% at fault.

How can you tell who’s at fault in a car accident?

Claims adjusters use facts, evidence, and state negligence laws to tell who’s at fault. Examples of evidence include police reports, physical evidence like vehicle damage, videos or pictures of the accident scene, and witness statements.

Data Methodology

Data scientists at Compare.com analyzed more than 50 million real-time auto insurance quotes from more than 75 partner insurers in order to compile the rates and statistics seen in this article. Compare.com’s auto insurance data includes coverage analysis and details on drivers’ vehicles, driving records, insurance histories, and demographic information.

All the rates listed in this article have been collected from a combination of real Compare.com quotes and external insurance rate data gathered in collaboration with Quadrant Information Services. Compare.com uses these observations to provide readers with insights into how auto insurance companies determine their premiums.


  1. LawInfo, “Comparative and Contributory Negligence Laws by State,” Accessed May 7, 2024.
  2. MWL Law Group, “Contributory Negligence/Comparative Fault Laws in All 50 States,” Accessed May 7, 2024.
  3. NOLO, “Civil Statutes of Limitations,” Accessed May 7, 2024.
  4. U.S. General Services Administration, “Avoid the Six Most Unsafe Driving Behaviors,” Accessed May 7, 2024.

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