Who’s at fault in a car accident?

A guide to who should pay out for damages following a collision or accident

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Everyone knows what to do in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. You need to get out of your vehicle, check for injuries, exchange insurance information with the other driver and if necessary, wait for the emergency services.

However, in the days or weeks following the incident there can be further issues as insurance companies try to work out just who is to blame.

In this guide we help you understand who’s at fault in the eyes of the law in the most common collision scenarios, going through the most popular types of accidents that occur.

When a car hits a pedestrian

When a car hits a pedestrian it’s often the case that the driver is held responsible. However, pedestrians don’t always have the right of way. Insurers and judges will look at which party was breaking the law or acting carelessly at the time of the accident. This is known as the law of negligence.

Here are a few examples of negligence:

  • For a driver: running a red light, going too fast, driving while talking on a cell phone, etc.
  • For a pedestrian: not looking before crossing, stepping out from behind a car into a busy road, etc.

Even if a driver is going within the speed limit or doesn’t see the pedestrian until the last minute, they can be deemed fully or partly responsible.

If you’re behind the wheel of a car you’re expected to be constantly on the lookout for potentially risky situations. So even if you’re going 25 miles per hour in a 30 zone, if you don’t pay attention to the group of teenagers messing about on the side of the road, you could be held responsible.

Or both the driver and the pedestrian can be found guilty of negligence. In this instance contributory negligence laws kick in. See below for more on this.

Contributory negligence

If someone makes a personal injury claim following an accident, it’s not always a case that one person is clearly responsible and wholly guilty for hurting someone else.

It’s possible that the pedestrian, passenger or other driver making the claim can be found partly responsible for their injuries. In other words they are found to have contributed to the collision.

Should a driver prove that the other person is at fault too, the claimant will have a percentage deducted from their compensation.

For example, if a passenger gets whiplash in a collision that was your fault, it might be decided that they won’t receive the maximum pay-out because they weren’t wearing a seat belt.

When a driver goes into the back of another driver’s car

As with a vehicle-pedestrian collision, it might seem obvious who’s at fault in a rear-end collision. In truth if you go into the back of another vehicle you probably will be held responsible.

The highway code dictates that you should leave at least a two-second gap between your vehicle and the one in front, so that if it suddenly slows up you have time to stop.

There might be instances where you can claim they were to blame, if they reverse into you without warning for instance. However, this is rare, with insurers often siding with the person who gets rear-ended.

Car park incidents

Collisions frequently happen in car parks. Cars are constantly on the move, trying to fit into tiny spaces. That’s not to mention the countless pedestrians that appear out of nowhere.

To determine who’s at fault in a parking lot, keep two concepts in mind: who’s moving and who has the right of way.

Here’s a breakdown of who’s at fault when cars collide in a car park.

A driver backs out of a space and collides with an oncoming car. Both cars are moving, so both drivers may be deemed partly to blame.
However, the driver backing out is more likely to be held responsible, as cars driving in the main lanes of the car park tend to have the right of way.

Two drivers pull out of spaces and back into each other. Given that both cars are moving and neither driver has the “right of way”, it’s likely both drivers will be deemed responsible.

Two cars collide while going for the same space. Both cars are moving so both cars could be liable. However, the vehicle turning left has the way of way, as the other driver is turning into oncoming traffic.

Admittedly there are many variables that will ultimately decide who’s to blame. Yet the driver turning right will probably be held mostly responsible for the collision.

In a three-way collision

When working out fault in a three-way collision, insurers think about the extent to which a driver contributed to the accident. As you might expect, the vehicle out front will typically get less blame than the end vehicle. Yet this isn’t always the case.

  • Leading car

    Mostly, the front car won’t be found to be at fault in a three-way incident. However, the driver could be found partially to blame for reckless driving.
    For example, they may have slammed their brakes and had broken brake lights.

  • Middle car

    The middle car may be held partially responsible for damage to the front car if they didn’t keep sufficient space between them and the leading car. Meanwhile they might take full blame for the pileup if they’re found negligent, having no brake lights and slamming their brakes on for example.

  • End car

    Typically, the driver at the back of the pileup will take most of the responsibility for the collision, although in certain cases the driver of the end car will be able to pursue claims against the other drivers for negligence.

Frequently asked questions

*Based on data provided by Consumer Intelligence Ltd, www.consumerintelligence.com (Mar ’24). 51% of car insurance customers could save £539.54
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Written by

Esther Wolffowitz

Esther Wolffowitz was a publisher at finder.com specialising in insurance. Esther holds an MSc in Media and Communication Governance from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). See full profile

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2 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    JulieJuly 18, 2019

    Hi, I was reversing from a parking bay and was assisted by a delivery driver who signalled my manoeuvre. As I watch the helper I herd a bang as I collided with a parked car.
    Who is at fault please

      AvatarFinder
      fayemanuelJuly 19, 2019Finder

      Hi Julie,

      Thanks for contacting Finder.

      Whoever is in the drivers seat and is operating the vehicle, regardless of self drive or driver assist, is liable for any accidents the car may be involved in. The only difference is when the other party is at fault for the accident. Otherwise liability rests with the person driving the car, and you are technically driving even with autonomous or driver assist equipped cars.

      I hope this helps.

      Kind Regards,

      Faye

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