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How Fault Is Determined In a Colorado Car Accident

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We understand if you are feeling worried or anxious about whether you will be able to recover money for your injuries and losses if the insurance company is pointing the finger at you for causing the car accident. Insurance companies do not act fairly or ethically, so don’t let this get you down.

Determining who is at-fault in a car accident in Denver or Colorado Springs can be difficult at times, but that should not stop you from speaking with the attorneys at TrueCounsel. We are car accident specialists. We deal with issues of who is at fault in car wrecks every week.

Negligence is a legal term attorneys and courts use to describe someone’s behavior in a given situation, and must be proven to receive compensation from the at-fault party. To act negligently means that the person’s actions and choices fell short of what we expect of them in the given situation. This same standard applies to you as well if you were driving in a car accident.

We all owe everyone a duty to operate our vehicles safely and to avoid causing accidents. The focus of most car wreck lawsuits is on whether the at-fault driver operated his vehicle in an unsafe way, and whether your injuries were caused by the auto accident.

The evidence below may be used to prove the other driver operated his car in an unsafe way. What evidence is available and useful in a particular case will be dependent on the unique facts of your case.

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The Importance of Witnesses

accident witness importanceWitnesses to your Colorado car accident can make or break your case. If there were no witnesses, it may be a “he said she said” argument between the two people involved. This can leave some people without a strong injury claim. There are also times when the witness to an accident is not very credible, so regardless of what happened, they could hurt your case.

Typically, though, having a witness who had a good view of how the auto accident happened is great for your car accident claim. In most situations, it is just the two drivers of the vehicles trying to explain how the other was at fault. The testimony of each driver doesn’t do a lot for the validity of their respective claims. This is why witnesses are so great.

When you first meet with your attorney to discuss your car collision case, they will want to know if any witnesses came forward. If so, we will speak with them immediately and ask them to write down what they saw. If you spoke to an insurance adjuster before retaining an attorney, chances are one of their first questions was whether there were any witnesses. Whenever there are discrepancies between what one of the drivers said, their credibility drops drastically. A witness coming in and agreeing with one driver will go a long way to proving fault.

Not All Witnesses Are Credible

Just because a witness came forward and gave their version of what happened, doesn’t mean this person is great for your case. This is because not everyone is credible or trustworthy.

Usually, someone who sees a car accident happen is not out for some monetary gain. They don’t have a stake in what happens from that point on. There is not a lot of incentive for someone to side with one person or the other. This is definitely a good thing, but it’s not the whole story.

This person may be a convicted felon for example. Perhaps they were convicted of tax fraud. Since tax fraud deals with lying, it affects their credibility. If this person got up on the witness stand and agreed with your version of how the accident happened, the defense attorney would bring up the tax fraud conviction. As you can probably understand, this affects their credibility in the eyes of the jury.

Also, some people have difficulty seeing. If a person witnesses a car accident and also has bad eyesight, we may question if they saw the accident accurately. It will just depend on the facts of the case. Accidents also happen very fast. When we see something happen quickly, our brains try to make sense out of what we saw. This is not always an accurate reflection of really what happened. For this reason, a third party’s observation of the accident is not always reliable or trustworthy.

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Factors That Affect Credibility

The types of things that affect a witness’s credibility will vary between every case. What may affect someone in one case, may not in another. These factors include where they were during the accident, what they heard, and what they were doing at the time they saw everything unfold.

  • Was the witness driving and focused on avoiding the accident?
  • Was the witness on a sidewalk, watching the accident unfold?
  • Did the witness observe the accident from start to finish?
  • Did the witness’ attention get drawn to the accident after the sound of the impact?
  • Did the witness observe a car speeding?
  • Was the witness distracted in any way?
  • Is the witness relying only on personal observations?
  • Was the witness relying on observations another person may have shared?
  • Other factors have to do with the witness’ character:
  • Has the witness been convicted of a felony?
  • Does the witness have a reputation for dishonesty?
  • Does the witness have an interest in the outcome of the claim
  • Is the witness related to anyone involved in the accident
  • Additional factors involving the witness’ physical condition:
  • Does the witness have poor eyesight or hearing?
  • Was the witness intoxicated at the time of the observations?
  • Does the witness have a poor memory?
  • Is the witness easily confused?

As you can see, there are a lot of variables at play in determining whether a witness is going to help or hurt your case. Especially troublesome are when there are two witnesses and each of them has different versions of the accident. One person may observe that the car was speeding, while the other may say the driver was going the speed limit. This doesn’t necessarily mean one of the witnesses is lying, just that they have different perceptions of how the accident occurred.

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Traffic Accident Report

If the police or other law enforcement agency responded to the scene of the accident, they are going to fill out a traffic accident report. The amount of detail a particular officer goes into will vary between officers and the information available to them when they arrive on the scene. Your attorney can get a copy of this if you do not have one.

Hopefully, the officer gives the other driver a ticket for violating a safety rule, such as failing to maintain a proper lookout or careless driving. Sometimes the officer simply doesn’t have enough information to decide whether the other driver broke a safety rule. It just depends.

Regardless of whether the traffic accident report is highly detailed and includes a diagram, or if it is just the bare-bones information, your attorney will use this document as a starting point in proving fault.

Experts and Testimonies

Police Officer Testimony

Broader than what they are likely to put into the traffic accident report, the testimony of the officer is great evidence to prove fault, as well to get the at-fault driver to impeach themselves. Typically what a person says to the officer is much more accurate than after they have been sued and there is money on the line. Having the officer tell the jury what the at-fault driver said at the scene of the accident will go a long way to proving fault.

Witnesses Statements and Testimony

Eyewitness testimony is the absolute best evidence that you can have to prove fault. There is nothing like a neutral third party that doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of the case to explain how the accident happened. This is why hiring the right auto accident attorneys early on can make or break your case. Not every personal injury firm bothers to interview witnesses. After a while, people’s memories fade and they may misremember or outright forget what they saw.

Accident Reconstruction Experts

An accident reconstructionist is an invaluable help when it comes to more serious accidents. They can use software programs to model the accident based on skid marks, gouges in the pavement, damage to the vehicles, and witness testimony. Juries specifically find their testimony at trial trustworthy.

Location of Vehicle Damage

The location of damage done to the vehicles can be helpful evidence to prove how the accident happened. It is also great evidence to get the at-fault driver to lie about it. Very often a driver who ran a stop sign, for example, will claim the other driver ran into them and they did nothing wrong. The damage done to the side of the at-fault driver’s vehicle clearly shows the opposite and that he is a liar.

Partial and Shared Fault

Experts for Car AccidentsIf you are involved in a Colorado car accident or another type of personal injury accident, the defendant may try to put some or all of the blame on you for causing the accident. While insurance companies regularly try to assign some of the blame on the innocent victim so they can get away with paying less, there are times when the plaintiff may be partially at-fault.

There are also situations where there are multiple people at-fault in causing the accident, but not the plaintiff. This commonly happens in car accidents, especially in bad weather. If there is more than one person at-fault in causing the accident, you can rest assured that this is actually better for you in most situations because it means more insurance coverage is available.

Your attorney and the attorneys for the defendants will work this out among themselves. Cases like this often end up going into litigation because neither insurance company wants to pay the claim. Usually, it doesn’t matter which defendant is more at-fault. If it comes down to it, the case will go before a jury and they will apportion fault between the various defendants.

If you are partially at-fault, then your attorney and the defense attorney will try to come to a compromise on what percentage of the accident was caused by you. This is truly an impossible task to get accurate, but we have to work with what we have.

You will be considered to be partially at fault if you drove your car negligently in some way. What this means is that you were driving your car in an unsafe way. For example, if you were driving down the highway at 80mph in a 60mph zone, and a car swerved into your lane causing an impact, you could be partially at fault. Perhaps if you were driving 65mph you would have had time to avoid the accident.

Here in Colorado, a comparative fault scheme is followed. If it is found that you were 51 percent or more at fault for causing the car wreck, then you will be prevented from recovering compensation from the other person.

If you are 10% at fault, then the amount of compensation you are entitled to be reduced by 10%. If your damages were $100,000, you could recover $90,000 from the other person.

As a Supreme Court has stated:

In any action to recover damages for death or injury to persons or for injury to property in which contributory negligence may be asserted as a defense, the contributory negligence of the plaintiff or his decedent does not bar recovery if that negligence was not greater than the negligence or gross negligence of the person or persons against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed must be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person seeking recovery or his decedent.

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