In auto insurance terms, an at-fault accident simply means an accident that you caused while driving your vehicle, whether partially or fully. Your culpability for the accident can be a consequence of something you did, like a sharp turn in front of an oncoming car. Or, it can be because of an action you didn’t take that resulted in an accident, like not indicating your intention to overtake another vehicle and cutting into an adjacent lane, causing a collision.
In Ontario, even partial-fault can change how the insurance company rates that risk. Be aware of this before planning on putting a claim through. Always make sure to speak with your broker about the possible down-sides of putting in a claim.
No-fault auto insurance rules ensure that accident benefits claims are processed faster so drivers can quickly get their vehicles repaired. It also, in effect, means that culpability for car accidents is often shared. The direct cost to your insurance policy and record depends on how much you are deemed at fault for the accident.
The individual parties in the auto accident will file claims with their respective auto insurance carriers. Claim settlements don’t depend on the at-fault adjudication, otherwise, disagreements about who is at fault would delay needed property and vehicle repairs. How much your insurer will pay for the car damage and injuries depends on how much of the bill your mandatory plus optional coverages can cover.
Common Circumstances For At-Fault Accidents
Insurance companies look at several factors in their assessment for liability on car accidents. For guidance in this process, they refer to the fault determination rules of the province of Ontario. Outside these rules, ordinary rules of negligence law will apply:
Hitting another vehicle from behind
Accidents, where you hit another car from behind, are also usually cut-and-dry cases in terms of where to assign liability. Only rarely will the insurance company deem that you were not at fault for such an accident.
Using a dashcam can be very useful in situations where you need to prove your innocence. Having a dashcam is recommended.
Disobeying or disregarding traffic laws
It is also hard to escape an at-fault decision when your failure to obey traffic laws results in an accident. Common driving indiscretions include ignoring stop signs and shooting through a red light.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Perhaps the least tolerated accident is where you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Save for being illegal, it is highly irresponsible to get behind the wheel in an intoxicated state. It recklessly endangers lives and the police and insurers alike don’t usually waste time looking for who to pin the accident on.
Talking on the cellphone while driving
In tight cases, where the insurance company is struggling to find evidence on who is at fault for the accident, the scales will most likely tip against you if the other driver(s) involved can prove you were on the phone when the accident happened. Talking on the phone while driving is distracting and is a cause of many accidents.
More and more insurance companies are rating this as a major conviction. This means it will negatively affect how the insurance company rates you upon renewal of your policy term, or when a new policy is purchased.
The Implications Of An At-Fault Accident
The process for determining who is at fault for a car accident is complex, covering up to 40 accident situations. It has to be so as the decision has far-reaching ramifications on the one on whose door much of the liability for the accident falls.
If your auto insurance policy has adequate coverage, you will not have to bear any personal cost for the accident, regardless of how much you are deemed to be at fault. Why then is an at-fault charge such a big deal?
While your policy’s property and injury liability coverage will take care of the financial fallout from the accident you’re at fault for, there will be a blemish on your insurance record. This blemish has repercussions on your insurance rates. In Ontario, the traffic violation and the at-fault accident will stay on your insurance record for 6 to 10 years.
However, the most direct consequence under Ontario law is if you are more than 25% at fault for the accident, your insurer can legally and will usually raise your rates. Essentially, the at-fault accident will cause them to reassess your risk profile.
As auto insurance follows the car in Ontario, if someone else was driving your car when the accident happened, the at-fault decision is assigned to your insurance record, not theirs.
What To Do After You’re Involved In An Accident
Your first instinct should never be to flee the scene. Don’t do this. In Ontario, as almost anywhere else, fleeing the scene of an accident is an offense. If the damage caused exceeds the damage threshold, you may be charged with fines up to $2,000.
So whether you believe you’re at-fault or not, call the police the moment an accident happens. Also, especially if it is not clear who caused the accident, take a lot of pictures of the accident scene. This may prove pivotal when the insurance company evaluates your degree of culpability in the accident.
Call the police if the accident was severe, otherwise, for fender benders or smaller accidents, you should do the following:
- Take pictures of the scene from all angles.
- Exchange or take pictures of proof of insurance form all parties involved.
- Go to a collision reporting center, this should be done within 24 hours.
- Speak with your insurance broker before talking to the insurance company directly. (this is important to emphasize)
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario also advises reporting the accident to your insurance carrier within seven days. The insurance company may refuse to process your claim if you fail to report the accident within a reasonable time. When you report the accident, make sure you have all the information at hand, including your policy details and those of the accident.
If you don’t agree with the at-fault accident decision by your insurer, you can approach the claims adjuster handling your case and ask them for a review. But make sure you have new, relevant information, otherwise, your chances of a downward review will be slim. If you still disagree, you can also approach the insurer’s complaints officer for recourse.