Is It a Mistake To Admit Fault After a Car Accident?
“I’m sorry” are two of the deadliest words in the English language when it comes to determining liability for a car accident. More specific “admissions” of fault are even worse. Never under any circumstances apologize or admit fault for a car accident. Instead, you should make the other party prove its assertions about the accident.
Why You Shouldn’t Admit Fault
There are dozens of reasons why you shouldn’t say anything that anyone could interpret as an admission of fault. Following are descriptions of just a few.
The Insurance Company Will Pounce on Your Statement
Insurance companies exist for one reason and one reason only: to make a profit. And they don’t profit by paying out claims to car accident victims. Consequently, insurance companies will use all means at their disposal to deny or minimize your claim.
By admitting fault after an accident, or even by saying sorry just to be polite, you are giving the insurance company ammunition that it will surely use against you at some point.
It’s Difficult To Change Your Statement Later
Suppose you admit fault and then try to change your statement later after more facts come to light. Denying fault after admitting it won’t take the denial off the record. Instead, it could involve you in a damaging self-contradiction. This could discredit you as a witness, rendering your subsequent denial of fault worthless.
You Might Be Dazed and Confused
After a car accident, you are likely to be psychologically traumatized. If you suffered a head injury, you might be dazed. For these and other reasons, the immediate aftermath of an injury accident is no time to be determining fault. Nevertheless, your own admission could be persuasive to a jury, and it could impede settlement negotiations.
You Probably Don’t Have All the Facts
After an accident, you almost certainly lack a clear picture of the accident and how it happened. For this, you will probably need an investigation. In some cases, it might take months to gather enough facts to assign fault for the accident. Don’t short-circuit this process with a premature admission of fault.
How Pennsylvania’s “Choice No-Fault” Auto Insurance System Works
Under Pennsylvania’s choice no-fault auto insurance system, drivers must carry at least $5,000 in medical benefits coverage. If there is an injury accident, injured parties can draw upon this resource regardless of who was at fault. In such a case, it doesn’t matter if you admit fault because it is irrelevant.
Remember, however, that Pennsylvania is an “at-fault” state when it comes to property damage. Every driver must carry $5,000 in property damage liability insurance. An injured party can immediately file a claim against your property damage liability insurance. If their expenses exceed your policy limits, they can sue you personally for the difference.
A driver who purchases $5,000 no-fault insurance can’t get any more than $5,000 unless their injuries are “serious” (or if they’ve chosen “full tort” coverage; see below). If the injuries are “serious,” an injured driver can use your admission of fault to file a claim against you. They can sue your liability insurance policy for damages or file a courtroom lawsuit.
The “Full Tort” Insurance Option
Pennsylvania’s no-fault auto insurance law is somewhat unique in that drivers have the option of rejecting it by selecting “full tort” insurance. This option will allow them to immediately sue your liability insurance policy or file a lawsuit against you.
Full tort coverage costs more, but it allows an injured party to seek full personal injury damages (both economic and noneconomic damages) without first proving that their injuries are “serious.” A driver must choose this option before an accident, not after.
Contributory Fault in Pennsylvania
Contributory fault, also known as comparative negligence, is a set of principles that apply when more than one party is responsible for an accident. Under Pennsylvania’s contributory fault doctrine, a court will assign a percentage of fault to each party. If a party’s fault is 50% or less, the court will deduct that exact percentage from their damages. If a party is more than 50% at fault, the court will deduct 100% from their damages.
The contributory fault system could become very relevant to your case if you admit fault after a car accident. Even if the other driver was clearly at fault, your admission of fault could result in a reduction (or a complete bar) of your ability to recover compensation.
Settlement vs. Litigation
Most car accident claims (well over 90%) resolve at the settlement table, not in court. Nevertheless, the old saying, “All bargaining takes place in the shadow of the law,” is relevant here. Your eventual settlement will reflect how much you believe a court would award if your case went to trial. Even if the other side doesn’t believe you were at fault, they might harden their bargaining position if they think a court would assign fault to you.
The “Discovery” Option
If liability is in dispute, one side or the other might file a lawsuit as a tactical move, even if they still hope to settle out of court. Remember, you can always settle right up until the jury announces a verdict. One reason why a party might file a lawsuit is to gain access to the pretrial “discovery” evidence-gathering process.
During the discovery process, each party will demand evidence from the other side and sometimes from third parties. A court can sanction a party who refuses to cooperate. You can cross-examine witnesses, submit written questions, and demand to inspect documents and physical evidence. All of this takes place under oath. The other side can make equivalent demands upon you.
Discovery can represent a danger or an opportunity. As a witness, for example, you might inadvertently admit fault during the heat of cross-examination. On the other hand, you might uncover favorable evidence that can help you neutralize or explain away your previous admission of fault.
You’re Likely To Need an Experienced Philadelphia Car Accident Attorney
If you were injured in a car accident in which liability is contested, you almost certainly need an attorney. The Pennsylvania personal injury compensation system is a minefield, and you need a guide to show you where the explosives are buried (so to speak). Contact an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney as soon as you can.