“I’m sorry” is not always meant as an admission of fault. A person might “apologize” simply to be polite after a frightening car accident.
Unfortunately, however, an opposing party can exploit the ambiguity of those words to your disadvantage. To understand the consequences of an apology, you need to know how the California auto insurance compensation system works and how auto insurance adjusters operate.
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Does Fault Even Matter? “At-Fault” vs. “No-Fault” Auto Insurance Systems
Two auto insurance systems prevail in the United States: ”at-fault” and “no-fault.”
“At-Fault” Auto Insurance Systems
Most states, including California, operate “at-fault” auto insurance systems. In such states, you can directly sue the at-fault party if you suffer injury in an auto accident. If you win, you can obtain full damages, including non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
Non-economic damages can be large. In fact, they often amount to well over half the value of many personal injury claims. Instead of suing, you can also make a claim against the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy and negotiate a private settlement.
“No-Fault” Auto Insurance Systems
About a dozen states operate “no-fault” auto insurance systems for personal injury. In Florida, for instance, if you suffer a car accident injury, you must file a claim against your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. This policy will provide limited benefits after a crash (up to $10,000), regardless of whose fault the accident was.
If you suffered damage to your vehicle, on the other hand, you must look to the other driver’s Property Damage Liability (PDL) insurance to cover it. In that case, you must prove that the other driver was at fault to qualify for compensation, either in court or at the settlement table.
“Serious” injuries: when fault matters even in a “no-fault” system
Suppose your injuries are too serious to settle for $10,000. In that case, still using Florida as an example, you must look to statutory law to determine whether they are “serious” enough to allow you to exit the no-fault system. You can sue the at-fault driver or file a claim against their bodily injury liability policy if they are.
However, Florida is also unique in that it doesn’t require drivers to purchase liability insurance, making it potentially more difficult to recover compensation.
Comparative Fault: A Concept You Need To Understand
Car accidents occur for many different reasons, and in many cases, two or more drivers share fault. When this happens, California applies its comparative fault principles to distribute liability among the parties.
Under comparative fault, the court assigns each party a percentage of fault. The court will then deduct that percentage from the damages available to the party requesting them.
If you are 20% at fault, for example, you will lose 20% of your damages, and you must pay 20% of the other driver’s damages. An admission of fault can increase your assigned percentage of the blame.
The Insurance Adjuster Is Not Your Friend
Auto insurance companies hire insurance adjusters to negotiate claims against their policies. The insurance adjuster may be smiling and friendly, but they do not have your best interests in mind.
The more money the insurance company pays you, the less they get to keep for themselves. Since insurance companies are in business for a profit, you can rest assured that the insurance adjuster is not your “good neighbor.” Your relationship is adversarial.
What To Say and What Not To Say After a Car Accident
If you’ve ever watched TV police dramas, you have heard it before: “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” That principle applies to criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits, and settlement negotiations.
No matter how shaken up you might be after a car accident, there are certain statements you should never make, either to the other driver, to the police, or the insurance company. Below are a few of them:
- “I’m sorry.” For what?
- “It was my fault.” You’re probably not in a position to make this decision right after an accident.
- “I didn’t see you.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the accident was your fault, but it can make it look like it was.
- “My bad.” Just another way of saying, “I’m sorry.”
- “I apologize.” Don’t you dare!
- “I should have been paying better attention.” That doesn’t mean you are liable, even if it is true. But it doesn’t make you look good.
- “I did not realize I was speeding.” Then how do you realize it now?
- “I did not see the stop sign.” Running the stop sign might not have been the cause of the accident.
- “You (the other driver) did not do anything wrong.” Then who did?
- “I thought I could beat the yellow light.” Maybe you did beat it. Alternatively, maybe running the light didn’t cause the accident. Don’t give the other side ammunition to use against you.
There are 1,000 other statements you might make, many of them indirect admissions of fault, that might hurt you. When in doubt, exercise your right to remain silent.
Social Media and Other Forms of Surveillance
You might be very aware of your speech when talking to the other driver, the police, or the insurance adjuster. One blind spot for many people, however, is social media. Did you know your social media posts can serve as evidence in court and settlement negotiations? Even a photo of you holding a beer might hurt your claim.
Don’t post anything on social media, including text, photos, and other media, that might add up to a direct or indirect admission of fault. In fact, don’t talk about the accident on social media at all. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know; they might work for the insurance company. Remember, when you grant someone access to your social media account, you give them an open window into your life.
The larger your claim is, the more the insurance company is likely to be willing to invest in surveillance. You might even find a private detective watching you. If you do, you’re not necessarily paranoid.
The Biggest Mistake You Might Make Is Failing To Hire an Attorney
You might not need an attorney for a fender-bender that didn’t generate injuries. If your accident is serious enough to require the participation of a San Diego car accident attorney to enforce your rights, however, not hiring one could doom your claim. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Are ready to discuss if It is a Mistake To Admit Fault After a Car Accident?? Contact our law office in San Diego or call us at (619) 777-5555, our skilled attorneys at Mission Personal Injury Lawyers offer a free consultation.