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How to Determine Fault in a Car Accident

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Assessing negligence in a collision is essential because the fault is a significant factor in who has to pay the losses of the other party. You can look at the police report to see who they blamed for the accident or wrote a ticket to, but sometimes liability is more complicated than that. This blog will discuss some of the issues that impact how to determine fault in a car accident.

If you got injured in a motor vehicle crash that was not your fault, a California car accident attorney could help you seek compensation for your losses from the at-fault party.

Duty of Care

First, you must establish that the defendant owed you a duty of care. The act of driving a vehicle on public streets places a duty on drivers to obey traffic laws and drive carefully. 

Breach of Duty

When a person fails to live up to their legal duty of care, they are negligent. For example, a person who drives recklessly gets behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, or speeds, violates the duty of care. Let’s walk through a hypothetical situation to understand how these issues of liability work. 

An individual drove home from a 12-hour work shift after getting very little sleep the night before. They were drowsy and drifted off to sleep briefly while driving. Driving drowsy is not driving carefully, so this conduct violates the legal duty of care.


Negligence, by itself, is not enough to make a person responsible for a collision. An individual could be driving drunk, for example, but if their alcohol impairment did not cause the accident, they will not be at fault for the crash. 

In our hypothetical, the drowsy driver crashed into the back of a car that was stopped at a red light. They failed to notice that the car was stopped because they had fallen asleep while driving. The negligent act of drowsy driving caused the accident.

Quantifiable Damages

To pursue a claim for compensation from a car crash, you must be able to prove measurable losses. In other words, if you had a close call but no actual collision with injuries, you cannot sue the at-fault party for your terrifying experience. If there was a motor vehicle accident but you did not get hurt, you might have a property damage claim, but not a personal injury claim. 

For a personal injury claim, you must have quantifiable damages, meaning losses that you can measure in dollars. A physical injury will satisfy this fourth element of liability.

Recoverable Damages After You Establish the Defendant’s Fault

The actual monetary damages you could pursue after proving the at-fault driver’s liability will depend on the unique facts of your case. Some of the common categories of compensation people request after a car accident include:

  • Medical bills for the treatment of their injuries
  • Lost wages for income they did not get paid when their wounds kept them from working
  • Pain and suffering for their physical discomfort and emotional distress

You will want to talk to a California car accident attorney about the damages you might be able to recover from the at-fault party in the collision you experienced. We offer a free initial consultation with no obligation. Reach out to our office today.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.