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Think You're at Fault in an Auto Accident? What to Do Next

You know that if you're in a car accident and the other driver is at fault, you have certain rights to recourse through the court system. But what happens if you're pretty sure that the accident was your fault? Can you still get coverage for your medical bills if you're injured? Do you need a lawyer? Take a look at what you need to know about dealing with the aftermath of an accident when you think that you might be at fault.

Don't Admit Fault

A car accident is a disorienting event. You may believe that you're at fault, but it's always possible that you're wrong. If you admit guilt in the immediate aftermath, you're stuck with it—witnesses will remember it, and that could go into the official police report. You should definitely be honest with police at the scene about what you think happened, but you should not say, "it was my fault," or anything similar.

The truth is, it can take some work to determine the cause of an accident. Each accident has both a legal cause and a proximate cause, and these are not necessarily the same thing. The proximate cause of an accident is the act or event that initiated the accident, and the legal cause is the instrument that caused the accident. For example, if you swerve to avoid an animal in the road, your swerve is the legal cause of the accident, but the animal's presence is the proximate cause. This distinction can matter in settlement negotiations and in court, but admitting fault in the immediate aftermath of the accident can limit your ability to use those distinctions to your advantage. It's best to stick to the facts as you remember them and avoid drawing any conclusions based on those facts in the immediate aftermath of the accident. There will be time to determine whether you are legally at fault later.

Do Seek Medical Attention

First of all, you should seek medical attention even if you don't necessarily feel like you've been injured. Some injuries don't show symptoms immediately, and factors like increased adrenaline or shock can prevent you from feeling injuries immediately. Don't let worry about medical bills prevent you from seeking medical help.

Whether your medical bills will be paid if you're determined to be at fault for the accident depends on several factors, including your location and the type of insurance coverage you have. If you live in one of the 12 no-fault insurance states, like Florida or New York, your insurance provider will pay some amount toward your medical expenses whether you're at fault or not. No-fault laws are intended to reduce court cases and help injured drivers get the money they need to pay their medical bills faster. On the other hand, if you're not in a no-fault state, your insurance may pay for your medical bills if you're paying for medical-payments coverage. If both you and the other driver are partially at fault, the other driver's insurance company may be responsible for part of your medical bills. And if none of those situations apply to you, your health-insurance coverage should cover your medical bills.

Do Consult an Attorney

It's always useful to consult an attorney after an auto accident. An attorney can review the evidence and documentation from the accident to help you determine whether you're correct in believing that you were at fault or if there's a case to be made that you weren't at fault or were only partially at fault. They can also help you negotiate with your insurance company for any medical or repair payments that they're responsible for.

And of course, if it turns out that you were at fault, there's always the chance that the other driver might take you to court, not just your insurance company. If that happens, you will want to be certain that you're prepared with an attorney who can defend you or negotiate terms that are as favorable to you as possible. Consulting an attorney as soon as possible after the accident ensures that you'll have a legal expert who is familiar with the case if you end up needing one later.

Fault is often more complicated than it seems in the immediate aftermath of an accident. By avoiding drawing your own conclusion about fault before the investigation is complete, seeking medical attention, and consulting an attorney in a timely manner, you'll be doing the essential things you need to do to protect yourself whether or not you caused the accident. 

Consult a law firm such as Law Offices of Burton J. Hass for more information.