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Who is At Fault in My Car Accident?

Car accidents are always unexpected and frustrating. Oftentimes, they are devastating. Suddenly you are pausing your life to care for injuries, vehicle repairs and automobile insurance. In addition to the trauma that these accidents can cause, the economic impact a motor vehicle accident can have can be equally devastating. 

If you are dealing with a serious injury, then it is likely that the No-Fault insurance provision is enough to cover all of your medical bills and lost wages. If you pursue a bodily injury claim against the other party’s insurance, you may be eligible to be compensated for all of your current and future losses as a result of the accident. But where does fault come into play? Is the other party completely responsible to pay the total amount of your losses in your accident? The State of New York uses “comparative negligence” as a factor that comes into play when deciding a verdict for the responsible party. This means that an at-fault party is only required to pay for the losses proportionally to the percentage that they are responsible for the accident. On one hand, this means that even if you are partially at fault for an accident, it can still be worth filing a personal injury claim and receiving a portion of compensation. On the other hand, insurance companies can try to prove and diminish fault on their end so that the plaintiff doesn’t receive their total amount of losses. Some of these scenarios aren’t so black and white with who is at fault, which is why it is so important to gather as much information at the scene of the accident. Here are some of the most common car accidents that occur, and who is usually at fault in those circumstances.

Rear end collision

Usually 100% of the time, the person who strikes you in the rear is the one at fault. They can try and argue that you stopped short for no reason or switched lanes without signaling right before impact. However, those are usually unsuccessful arguments and only carry weight if there are independent witnesses to back them up.

Left Turn

In the instance where there is a collision when someone is making a left turn at an intersection, the driver who makes the left turn is usually the one completely at fault, since they are supposed to yield the right of way to the oncoming traffic. A mitigating circumstance can be a claim that there was speeding on the part of the non-turning party. This once again needs to be verified through independent witnesses and only reduces the fault by a small portion.


In a sideswipe collision, the person who is changing lanes is at fault for the accident. If there are different versions of the scenario, the police will sometimes look at where the accident occurred on the road to see skid marks or final resting places of the vehicles. If ultimately there is no physical evidence, no witnesses and a dispute, it usually gets resolved with both parties accepting a portion of fault or a trial.

Failure to Yield a Traffic Control Device

Traffic control devices are markers, signs and signal devices used to inform, guide and control traffic, including pedestrians, motor vehicle drivers and bicyclists. An example of failing to yield to such a device would be someone who blows a stop sign or a traffic light. Similar to a side swipe, it’s the fault of the person disregarding the traffic control device. If both parties claim the other party has failed to yield to the traffic control device and there is a dispute, it will once again depend on the physical evidence and witnesses. If it can’t be negotiated then it would likely result in a trial.

As you can see, the opposing party can pretty much always try to argue that they are not 100% at fault. The only way to draw the most accurate conclusion is with physical evidence. This is why it can be so imperative to know what to do immediately following an accident, so that you can build a strong case against the at-fault party.

About the Author

Steven Palermo is the managing partner for Palermo Law, Long Island’s Personal Injury Law Firm. He has been helping people receive compensation for their injuries for over 21 years. He focuses on cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, construction accidents and slip and fall injuries.

His book The Ultimate Guide to Handling New York Car Accident Claims details the ins and outs of a car accident claim in a simple, easy-to-read manner.