Admitting fault after a car accident in Fort Walton Beach can jeopardize your right to claim injury compensation. Both insurance claims and lawsuits hinge on proving the other driver caused the accident. Making an admission of fault can throw the matter of liability into question.
Due to their financial incentive to avoid liability, the other driver and their insurer can even twist innocent statements made by you into an admission of fault. Fortunately, an injury lawyer can often help you provide important context for any alleged admissions or even get them excluded from evidence.
Here are some reasons an admission of fault can hurt your case.
Insurance Claims After an Accident
Florida uses a no-fault system of car insurance. Most accident victims start with their no-fault auto insurer for compensation after an accident.
The no-fault insurer pays up to $10,000 in medical and disability benefits without regard to fault. The insurer must pay these benefits whether you caused the accident or were an innocent victim.
If your losses exceed your policy limits, you can seek additional compensation from the at-fault driver. And if you suffer a significant and permanent injury, you can forgo the no-fault system and proceed directly to a claim against the at-fault driver.
Negligence and Car Accident Claims
Who is at fault will play a central role in this second stage. You can only recover injury compensation if you can prove the other driver was negligent in causing the accident.
Negligence requires proof of four elements:
Every road user has a legal duty to drive with reasonable care. That duty has been breached when the driver does something that creates an unreasonable hazard to other road users. If that breach causes an accident and you suffer damages as a result, you have a negligence claim.
The Usefulness of Admissions of Fault
In one sense, an admission of fault is irrelevant to the negligence analysis. Suppose the other driver ran a stop sign and hit your vehicle in a broadside collision. The other driver’s actions breached the duty of care. The driver failed to stop at a stop sign and proceeded into an occupied intersection.
Even if you get out of your car and proclaim to the other driver that the accident was your fault, your admission will not outweigh the evidence of negligence.
The other driver should have stopped at the stop sign. And the fact that you got hit broadside means the other driver had the last, best chance of avoiding the accident because you were already in the intersection. These facts tend to prove the other driver was negligent, regardless of what you said.
On the other hand, admissions of fault can influence the closure of the case. For example, you could have a sideswipe collision, and the evidence does not point solidly at either driver. You might say that the other driver moved into your lane. The other driver might say you moved into their lane.
In this case, jumping out of your car and saying, “Sorry, that was my fault,” could tip the scales in favor of the other driver. Even if you later recant and claim that the other driver caused the accident, your statement will haunt your injury claim.
Admissions of Fault to the Insurer
Admissions of fault can damage your case. Some insurance companies train claim adjusters to try to get an admission from you sometime during the case just in case they need it.
One way they lead you into an admission is through a recorded statement, which is a recorded phone conversation between you and a claims adjuster. During this call, the claims adjuster will ask you questions, and you will answer to the best of your ability.
An injury lawyer will advise you against giving a recorded statement without a lawyer present on the call in almost all situations. Even after you hire one, a lawyer might still advise you to decline the recorded statement.
The claims adjuster will have lots of information to investigate your claim. The adjuster will have the Florida crash report, your medical records, your medical bills, and the other driver’s statement. The adjuster can also call witnesses listed in the crash report.
The recorded statement will serve mainly to give the insurer grounds to deny or reduce your claim. If the adjuster can get you to admit fault during that call, Florida’s comparative negligence law allows the adjuster to reduce or deny your claim.
Admissibility of Admissions of Fault
When you deal with the insurance company, the claims adjuster can consider anything that bears on the case. But if you fail to settle your claim and need to file a lawsuit, a judge will exercise much more control over the evidence considered.
Admissions of fault constitute hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement introduced to prove the truth of the statement’s contents.
If you said to the other driver at the accident scene, “Sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going,” the other driver will try to introduce this statement into evidence. But this constitutes hearsay because it was made outside of the court, and they want to introduce it to prove you failed to watch where you were going.
Judges will exclude hearsay statements unless they fall into an exception to the rule.
The Role of an Injury Lawyer
The lawyer will use all legal means possible to minimize the impact of any admissions of fault. These means include downplaying any admissions you make, objecting to any testimony about your statements, and guiding you through your testimony and recorded statement if you made one. Admissions of guilt can jeopardize your right to recover compensation. But they do not need to destroy it. To discuss how an experienced Fort Walton Beach injury lawyer can help you correct the mistake of admitting fault after a car accident, contact our Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys to schedule a free consultation.