Determining who is at Fault in a Motor Collision
A Disambiguation of the Process Used to Assign Official Blame for Car Crashes with Evans Agrapidis
Everyone knows that being found officially at fault for a major motor collision is harmful in several ways. Inevitably, it will increase a person’s insurance premiums, and perhaps lead to their insurance company totally halting coverage. But in the state of New Jersey, there is another substantial consequence: it can affect the amount of money a person can claim from their insurance policy or seek damages for in lawsuits against others. In this context, it is easy to understand why culpability matters. What is more ambiguous is the process itself. So, how exactly is assigning official blame determined? Who are the relevant authorities and what methods do they use to establish which party is at fault for a traffic accident? Personal injury lawyer, Evans Agrapidis provides a short rundown of the players involved and procedures they use to make that ruling
The Colliding Parties
Although the official allocation of fault does not occur until sometime later, elements important to the process happen in the immediate aftermath of a crash. When two parties collide in traffic, they are meant to pull out of traffic and call the police — and, should someone be injured, emergency medical services. Next, both parties usually exchange insurance information and take photos of any damage incurred to their vehicles. Sometimes, if odd geography, damaged infrastructure, or other extenuating circumstances are thought to have contributed to the accident, they will take photos of the surrounding area. This evidence will later factor into the determination of fault.
According to Evans Agrapidis , “When the police arrive, they will take photos of their own and accept statements from those directly involved in the accident, as well as any witnesses on hand. If a red light camera is in the vicinity and can serve to further clarify the situation, they will obtain footage from it, too.” The police will then compile all this information into an official report and sometimes draw a conclusion as to who is at fault for causing the crash. For example, under New Jersey law, proof that one driver was speeding and the other was not, or that one driver was drunk and the other was sober is considered negligence per se and will establish fault, ending the matter. Automobile accidents, however, are rarely so cut and dry. If necessary an amended police report form can be completed and filed with the State of New Jersey
The Insurance Companies
At this point, the allocation of blame for the accident falls to the pertinent insurance companies. New Jersey observes a modified comparative negligence model, which establishes fault on a percentage basis. By examining all available evidence, including photographs, the police report, witness testimony, and even the type of collision in question, insurance adjusters will make a determination which places more than fifty percent of the blame on one party and less than fifty percent of the blame on the other. If a party is determined to be more than fifty percent at fault, they cannot recover any damages resulting from the crash. As for the other party, if they are determined partially at fault, their ability to recover damages is proportionally reduced — meaning if they are thirty percent at fault, the amount of money they can collect in damages is decreased by thirty percent.
Private Legal Counsel
In retaining legal counsel, a person protects themselves against unfavorable findings by their insurance company. A trained accident lawyer will set up a parallel investigation of the collision whose conclusion might differ from that of the insurance company, prompting a negotiation for better terms.
“If private legal counsel cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company, the issue will escalate to involve the courts” claims Agrapidis. Should things reach this level, all matters in dispute, including the allocation of fault in the accident, will be decided in a trial by jury.
Finally, it should be noted that it is possible that no driver be deemed at fault for an automobile collision. An investigation might reveal that a manufacturer is responsible for putting a defective vehicle or vehicle part on the market. In the same respect, it is also possible for a mechanic to be found culpable for a crash due to poor-quality repairs. Government agencies have also been known to be found at fault for some accidents, usually by failing to properly maintain a road.
In 1978, Evans Agrapidis earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Syracuse University, graduating Magna Cum Laude from a program of Honors Accounting. Following that, he received a Juris Doctor degree from the Seton Hall University School of Law in 1983. Upon entering the professional world, Evans C. Agrapidis served as a law clerk in the Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey for 2 years and later entered private practice in 1988. He is presently the managing partner of the law firm of Agrapidis and Maroules.
Evans Agrapidis was admitted to the New Jersey State and New Jersey Federal Bar Associations in 1983, the New York State and New York Federal Bar Associations in 1985, and is a current member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.