The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, estimates 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020.
Determining who is at fault for a car crash in Utah needs a little examination. In order to fully determine who is ultimately responsible for a crash we first need to define a few terms - fault, negligence and cause.
"Fault" or responsibility for causing the crash might seem like a simple term to understand but nothing is simple when it comes to the law. In the Utah jury instructions, "fault means any wrongful act or failure to act."
The Utah jury instructions define what negligence is:
Negligence means that a person did not use reasonable care. We all have a duty to use reasonable care to avoid injuring others. Reasonable care is simply what a reasonably careful person would do in a similar situation. A person may be negligent in acting or in failing to act.
A person with a physical disability is held to the same standard of care as a person without that disability. However, you may consider [name of person]'s disability among all of the other circumstances when deciding whether [his] conduct was reasonable. In other words, a physically disabled person must use the care that a reasonable person with a similar disability would use in a similar situation.
The amount of care that is reasonable depends upon the situation. Ordinary circumstances do not require extraordinary caution. But some situations require more care because a reasonably careful person would understand that more danger is involved.
As used in the law, the word "cause" has a special meaning, and you must use this meaning whenever you apply the word. "Cause" means that:
(1) the person's act or failure to act produced the harm directly or set in motion events that produced the harm in a natural and continuous sequence; and (2) the person's act or failure to act could be foreseen by a reasonable person to produce a harm of the same general nature.
With these terms in mind we can now look at how fault may be determined in a typical car crash case--or using more defined terms, motor vehicle accident. There are essentially five ways to determine who is at fault for the crash.
1: The Drivers May Agree
Do people involved in a crash typically apologize at the scene for causing a crash? Something something akin to, "my mistake, sorry about running the red light, here is my insurance information." It does happen, but only occasionally in my experience.
We advise all people involved in a car crash to never blurt out they caused the crash. There may be many circumstances that you are not aware of that may have contributed to the crash. First and foremost make sure people are not seriously injured and if they are call 911. After everyone is safe and out of harm's way it's best to get the other driver's information (driving license and insurance cards), take a few pictures, draw a little map of the scene, and make a few notes. If your vehicle is severely damaged call the police.
2: The Police Report Dictates
If police arrive at the scene they will embark on an investigation. Keep in mind that not all investigations include definitive analysis. In Utah, the result of the investigation, however in depth or superficial, is reduced to a standardized report called a DI-9. There is a very detailed instruction manual that educates officers on how to complete the report.
The police officer will have everyone involved, including witnesses, fill out a statement recounting what they witnessed. These statements are typically not shared to each driver but gathered by the officer who later attaches them to the DI-9 report.
At the conclusion of the on-scene investigation each driver will receive an exchange of information form the should show the names of persons involved, their insurance coverage, and a case number. The exchange of information is required by law. The case number will match with the DI-9 crash report. Any driver, or their attorneys can later obtain the DI-9 report.
The DI-9 form typically includes the officer's narrative that is a summation of his or her investigation. The DI-9 will also typically include a diagram of what the officer believes happened, based on the investigation.
Police officers, just like all of us, are not infallible and sometimes make mistakes. More commonly, in my experience, police officers, again like most of us, are overworked. They have many calls to attend and are often prevented from doing a more complete investigation into the crash. As a result the DI-9 reports may be somewhat incomplete or mistaken. Because of these issues, police reports (DI-9 reports) are seldom admitted as evidence at trial.
3: The Insurance Companies May Decide
Insurance companies are in the business of making money--they collect premiums and hope to pay out as little as possible when you are involved in a crash. Whether you think you are at fault or not, it is always wise to contact your vehicle insurer and file a claim.
Once a claim is filed, the insurance companies will obtain the DI-9, contact all involved including witnesses, and determine who is at fault. If the insurance companies are in the business of collecting premiums and paying as little as possible, is it any wonder that the insurance companies go about finding liability on anyone and everyone else except the person they insure?
Relying on your insurance company may be expedient but the process is wrought with prejudice in favor of their insured.
Allstate claims the following:
Typically, when you file a claim, an insurance adjuster is assigned to your claim. The adjuster will gather details about the accident. This may include reviewing the police report, interviewing involved parties and assessing photos of damage. Based on their review, the adjuster works with the insurer to determine who's at fault for the accident.
Your car accident claim may be paid in a number of ways, depending on your insurer and who is at fault. Your insurer may pay part of your claim, based on the coverage you have on your own auto insurance policy. Or, you may get a claim payment from the other driver's insurer.
4: Arbitration Decides:
When the insurance companies do not agree they arbitrate. The dispute goes to Arbitration Forums Inc., a company that decides the extent of the damage and who pays. And the majority of all large insurers do business this way.
Arbitration reduces the number of lawsuits, making it less cumbersome and costly for insurers. Remember, the insurance companies are all about paying out as little as possible.
5: The Court or Jury Decides
If you decide to go to court, the case will be decided by a judge in the case of what is called a bench trial or decided by a jury.
In my opinion, you will never get the full value of your case unless you get an attorney and be at least willing to take your case to trial in front of a jury. Yes, it takes more time, but if you want full compensation for your injuries caused by someone's negligence, you should consider getting a lawyer to fully work up your case. Even though you elect litigation it is likely that your case will settle before trial, but settle at a far higher value than just negotiating with the insurance companies.
Putting It All Together:
Determining fault is only the first part of determining ultimate responsibility for a car crash. Juries are excellent in determining not only fault but also at determining negligence and cause.
George Tait Law is a law firm and its lawyers represent injured people and their families across Utah including the counties and cities of Beaver, Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Daggett, Davis, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Juab, Kane, Millard, Morgan, Piute, Rich, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Uintah, Utah, Wasatch, Washington, Wayne, Weber, American Fork, Beaver, Bountiful, Brigham City, Cedar City, Delta, Draper, Duchesne, Fillmore, Heber, Kamas, Kanab, Kaysville, Layton, Lehi, Logan, Moab, Murray, Nephi, Ogden, Orem, Park City, Price, Provo, Richfield, Riverton, Roy, Salt Lake City, Sandy, South Jordan, St. George, Tooele, Vernal, West Jordan, and West Valley City. George Tait Law and its attorneys are licensed to practice law only in the State of Utah and maintain offices in Salt Lake City, Utah. No attorney client relationship is established by simply visiting this website.