Take the following scenario. Two cars enter into a lighted intersection, one from the south and the other from the east, and run into each other, causing a car crash. One of the drivers had a green light and the other a red light. Driver A is sure she had the green light when she entered the intersection, while Driver B is adamant he had the green light. Provided there was no error in the sequencing of the lights; they cannot both be right. Who is at fault?
In the early part of the claim, the respective insurance companies are drawing their conclusions as to who is at fault. While insurance companies are duty-bound to conduct their due diligence by gathering information such as witness statements, police reports, and photographs, such efforts are not always made. Nevertheless, the conclusion or conclusions of the insurance companies can determine how things such as property damage and deductible reimbursements are paid between the insurance companies. One of the following three scenarios is likely to occur when liability is not clear cut:
- The insurance companies agree to a singular determination of fault (e.g., 50% to Driver A and 50% to Driver B);
- The insurance companies each deny liability and let the insureds resolve these issues through litigation; or
- The insurance companies agree to go to arbitration, where they each submit their “evidence” to determine how to apportion the fault for the car crash.
Often, liability is hotly contested by the involved drivers. Despite what the drivers may say as to how the accident occurred, the insurance carriers may agree to who is at fault or how to apportion fault among the drivers. In some instances, the insurance companies agree to disagree, essentially leaving each driver to “fend for themselves.”
The third option, arbitration, involves a neutral third-party arbitrator who then decides the fault apportionment of each party. Arbitrations are governed by Chapter 462 of the Florida Statutes. The process is mostly informal and, when it comes to resolving disputes among insurance companies over who is at fault in a car crash, all too secretive.
In any event, the decision of the adjuster or, in cases involving arbitration, the conclusion of the arbitrator will affect the way your claim is adjusted, and yet you may feel as though you had no say in the matter.
What if the arbitrator got the decision wrong?
While the impact on the short-term outlook of your claim may differ depending on the arbitrator’s decision, your long-term claim against the other driver is not bound by this decision. The truth is that arbitrators get their decisions wrong, but it is an informal and quick way for the insurance companies to resolve disputes.
However, what is most important is that despite how the insurance companies may choose to deal with the issue of fault in a car crash, you have a constitutional right to a trial by jury to determine everything from who was at fault for the accident to what your damages are.