For anyone involved in a car accident, there are two broad ways to be classified: at-fault or not-at-fault. More often than not, it's fairly straightforward to determine who deserves which label. By the time authorities arrive and put together a police report, the at-fault party(ies) may be fully willing to own up to their actions and get written up accordingly.
Sometimes it's not so simple though. It's possible that the drivers and passengers could have dissenting views of what exactly went on with regard to the accident. Evidence could end up playing a major role in the final determinations.
If someone is putting up a serious fight against allegations of being at-fault, it's because the consequences can be pretty dire. Here's everything you need to know about what it means to be at-fault in an accident.
As mentioned above, police reports play an integral role in assigning fault for an accident. That said, they don't serve as an irrefutable ruling. It is actually the insurer who makes the official determination of fault.
Though insurers can almost always be relied upon to provide a fair and just interpretation of a situation, a client who takes issue with an insurer's ruling does have a way to contest the decision. All insurers will have some sort of internal appeals board that can handle things, or a third-party mediator could even be brought in if the situation calls for it.
Thankfully, fault determinations aren't all-or-nothing propositions. Drivers can also be found to be partially at-fault.
When that is the case, the degree of fault is usually expressed as a percentage. If multiple drivers are at-fault, then that percentage will be split up accordingly, and each and them will pay whatever amount is proportional to their fault level (e.g. if there's an accident that results in $20,000 in damages and two drivers are both found to be 50% at fault, they would each be on the hook for $10,000).
This is why people will jump through hoops to make sure they are at-fault for as little as possible. After covering your damages when you are at-fault, insurers will proceed to raise your annual premium the moment they get the chance—i.e. the next time it's up from renewal.
At-fault accidents typically stay attached to your record for six years. So if you are found guilty of being at-fault and watch your rates get raised on you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! It just takes a while to get there...
Since auto insurance regulations are determined at the provincial level and not the federal level, each province handles that area of the law on its own terms. When it comes to determining which insurer pays out benefits in a given accident, there is a bit of variation between the provinces.
Some use what is called a no-fault system. Under this model, a car accident victim who is not-at-fault can collect their benefits from their own insurer, rather than go through the process of getting them from the at-fault insurer. The other system is a tort-based system, wherein the fault is determined among the insurers, and everything is paid for by the one representing the at-fault party(ies). Provinces sometimes borrow elements from each system and use a hybrid one.