Most motor vehicle accidents are, perhaps surprisingly, relatively undisputed incidents. Even though the parties involved may be shaken up, injured, or angry at the scene of the accident, there usually is no major disagreement as to who caused the accident.
Everyone knows who ran into whom — especially with rear-end accidents, which compromise a sizable portion (if not a majority) of the car accidents which occur in the Atlanta metro area. What do you do, though, if the other driver lied about an accident and misinforms the police officer about who caused the accident to try to get out of a ticket?
We’ll walk you through this question below, and give you some important information about what to do next.
How Police Determine Accident Liability
The starting point for answering this question rests upon what the responding police officer does. The investigating officer should talk to all the parties involved in the accident separately to try to determine what happened and who was at fault based on their observations of the accident scene and on each driver’s statements. The officer should also talk to any witnesses who were passengers in the involved vehicles or other eyewitnesses who saw the accident and remain at the scene to give a statement.
Once the officer has investigated the accident and made a determination of fault, they will normally issue a citation to the at-fault driver for some traffic violation, whether that be following too closely (the most common citation for rear-end collisions), failure to obey a traffic control device, failure to yield to oncoming traffic, or any number of other potential violations of the driving rules.
But what if there are no witnesses?
If there are no witnesses to the accident, the biggest key factors that will help the police officer investigate fault are the damage to all vehicles involved and, occasionally, dash cameras. But anything else that can possibly demonstrate to the police officer that the other driver is lying should be considered as well. For instance, look for skid marks on the ground or debris left at the point of impact or anything else that might coincide with the truth of what actually happened.
Avoid Moving the Vehicles (If Possible)
Damage to the vehicles, as discussed above, is a helpful aid in determining fault. While it can be important to move the vehicles out of a dangerous roadway, try to safely take pictures of the vehicles as they were positioned immediately after the impact.
If it’s safe to leave the vehicles, try to wait until the responding officer arrives and sees the damage before they’re moved. While this isn’t as important in a rear-end collision where it’s obviously clear that the front of one vehicle hit the rear of another, it can become an issue in other types of accidents when moving the vehicles will make it unclear exactly what happened.
Check the Dash Cameras
Although not common to every vehicle, dash cameras have been increasing in popularity in recent years — especially for company vehicles and for people who earn a living by driving around all day (delivery persons, rideshare drivers, etc.).
In a recent case managed by our Atlanta accident attorneys at Scholle Law, the officer not only cited the at-fault driver for running a red light but for violating Georgia’s Hands-Free Law as well because the inward-facing camera in the company vehicle showed the driver handling their phone at the time of the accident.
Dash cameras can be critical in determining fault. If any of the involved vehicles have one installed, be sure the responding officer knows and reviews the footage. If a nearby witness vehicle has one, ask them to wait and show the footage to the responding officer.
Also, take note of any public transportation vehicles, like buses, that were nearby at the time of the accident as the officer or an attorney might be able to request the footage. Similarly, consider investing in a dash camera for your own vehicle to help protect yourself in the event of a dishonest driver.
Why Determining Fault After an Auto Accident Matters
Whatever the evidence, the best-case scenario is that the police officer finds the other driver at fault and issues them a citation, despite their lie. This is a very real possibility in many accidents. No matter how intricate or believable a story the other driver invents, it would be very difficult for them to get out of a ticket if they rear-ended you.
Similarly, the officer could easily find fault and issue a ticket to the other driver if they pulled out of a parking lot into a busy roadway and caused an accident. No matter what the other cars were doing, that driver had the responsibility to make sure the roadway was clear before they entered it. And no matter what other driver lied about an accident, they likely will get a ticket.
The worst-case scenario is that the police officer believes the other driver’s lie and issues you a citation for the accident. Your options become more limited at this point.
Your insurance company (and certainly the other party’s insurance company) will likely side with the police officer and you’ll end up having to pay for a ticket and take the hit on your insurance. In such cases, it might be worth speaking with an attorney who specializes in traffic violations to see if there’s anything that can be done to fight the ticket and dispute your liability. It may be expensive upfront, but it can save you in the long run if it keeps your insurance rates from skyrocketing.
And, most importantly, fighting a traffic citation may result in the fault being shifted back over to the responsible party so that you are properly compensated for any injuries you sustained in the accident. Most personal injury attorneys will not take your case if you were the one at fault. It’s important to do what you can to make sure that the police or court record is corrected and the actual liable party is held responsible.
When Fault Is Unclear or Undetermined (No Citation Is Given)
Another scenario is that the investigating officer decides not to issue a citation to anyone. Often, if the officer feels that they can’t make an adequate determination due to unclear evidence and conflicting statements, they will simply record what each driver said and report that they could make no finding of fault.
When this happens, the automobile insurance companies representing each driver are left to make the determination of fault on their own. Although they will almost always speak with their own driver, they may attempt to get a recorded statement on the record from both their claimant (customer) and the other driver.
In this scenario, both insurance companies will argue with each other and probably reach some sort of compromise on how the damages will be apportioned according to their finding of fault. Or, they’ll dig their heels in and everyone will retain an attorney and you’ll have to fight to get the record set straight.
In some respects, this is one of the hardest scenarios to contend with because each party is at the whim of what an adjuster decides.
When Both Drivers Are Given Citations
Another possible, though rare, is when the responding police officer issues a citation to both parties involved in the wreck. While this seems rather nonsensical, we’ve seen it happen before. It often results in a twisted and complicated legal battle over liability with multiple attorneys involved.
Both citations may be combined into 1 case so that the judge can hear both sides and decide who was at fault. This scenario tends to cause a lot of grief for all of the parties involved, as well as a significant delay while the parties are waiting on the traffic citations to be resolved so they could more easily proceed with the personal injury case.
What To Do After a Car Accident
If no one is listening to you or believing you, don’t be afraid to do some of your own leg work. If the accident happened in front of a business, ask someone in the business if they have any surveillance cameras which would have caught the accident. Do this soon after the accident as many security systems overwrite old footage within a matter of days. Also, keep any photographs that you took of the accident for later evidence.
Whatever you do, don’t try to reach out to the other driver to confront them. Leave that up to the adjusters and, if they don’t believe you, get an attorney who can help you.
Any scenario where the police officer believes the lie of the other driver is difficult. It can be extremely discouraging to know that you didn’t do anything wrong, and yet still be facing legal consequences you don’t deserve. But while it may require some time and effort, there are things that can be done to help the situation.
Most importantly, talk to an attorney.
At Scholle Law, we will be able to give you some guidance on how best to proceed and give information that can help you overturn a wrongful finding of fault. We also may have access to resources which you don’t know about that can make all of the difference. We can help you set the record set straight once and for all.
Whatever the circumstance, it’s best to have the advice of an expert who is experienced in navigating this type of situation. If you were involved in an accident and the other driver lied about an accident, we would love to learn more about the incident and speak with you about your options.