How can I fight an auto insurance company's decision about liability and fault in a car accident?

Your best chance to change the insurer’s mind is with evidence. What evidence is good evidence? The best evidence typically is—

  • An admission of fault by the other driver, accepting responsibility for the accident;
  • Police reports assigning blame to the other party, since the police are generally considered to be trained and neutral observers;
  • Eyewitness statements by people with no stake in the outcome and no connection to any party—basically, bystanders;
  • Video evidence of the accident; whether from a cell phone or security or red-light cameras;
  • Skid marks and other physical evidence of what happened (e.g., when someone applied the brakes).

What evidence is weak? Your own statements, or statements from your friends or family—you and they have, to be blunt, an incentive to lie, and that badly undermines the testimony.

People give insurance companies credit for too much power. They assume that the insurer’s determination or conclusion is some sort of binding legal decision. However, it’s not. It’s just the insurer’s opinion, and their decision as to whether to voluntarily offer compensation (and how much). If you don’t like the decision, you can sue and let a court decide liability.

However, before discussing some of the mechanics of suing, if you and the insurer cannot work matters out to everyone’s satisfaction, we have to discuss evidence. To expect the insurer to reach a different conclusion, you must be able to visibly present to the insurer evidence that you were not at fault and/or that someone else was. Evidence is necessary because if you were to sue, you would need evidence in court—without evidence for your version of events, you will lose. Insurers are practical and experienced at litigation. If you have strong evidence, they are more likely to decide in your favor, since if they don’t, you may sue—and with strong evidence, will likely win. Why, then, go through the cost and effort of a lawsuit only to lose? So, if you look like you might prevail at court, they are more likely to voluntarily offer you money; conversely, if you have little, no, or weak evidence, they are more likely to not offer what you want, since they can be confident they would win in court.

So if you want to try to convince an insurer to offer you compensation and to close the case and move on, give them a reason to do so—share evidence showing that you were not at fault. If there is a police report that attributes the cause of the accident to the other driver, present it to your insurance company. If there were witnesses to the accident, have your insurance company contact them. Were there any video security cameras where the accident occurred which may show the other driver was at fault? If so, have your insurance company obtain that information. With evidence, you may get them to reverse their decision—or if you have to sue, you’ll have the evidence you need in court.

Despite your submission of evidence, your insurer might not change its mind. In that event, you have the option to sue. If there was another car involved, you don’t sue the other driver’s insurer; rather, you directly sue the other driver who you believe to be at fault. His or her insurer should defend him or her in court and pay any judgments against their driver (at least up to the insurance policy’s limits) should you win. You would sue based on negligence: the other driver’s careless driving (or the failure to use reasonable care). If you are seeking money from your own insurer, such as under a comprehensive or collision policy, you would sue the insurer for “breach of contract”, for not honoring the policy’s obligation to pay your claim.