Personal Injury

I Was Issued a Ticket at the Accident Scene; Does That Mean I'm at Fault?

By David Berg, Attorney
Getting ticketed at the scene of a car accident is never a good thing when it comes to assessing fault for the crash, but it may not necessarily spell doom for your car accident claim.

If you're issued a moving violation by a law enforcement officer at the scene of your car accident, it could certainly lead to a finding that you were at fault, but it's not a forgone conclusion. You have the option of appealing the citation, and there's always the possibility that the other driver was also cited in connection with the accident. Let's dive a little deeper into these issues.

Getting a Ticket Is a Pretty Clear Indicator of Fault

Let's start with a basic rule of liability: A driver who receives a ticket in connection with a car accident is almost always going to be considered at fault for the crash. That means, if you were cited at the scene and you try to make an insurance claim or file a lawsuit in which you accuse the other driver of being negligent, you are almost definitely going to lose (unless the other driver was also cited; more on this later).

In fact, most personal injury lawyers are not even going to take a case in which the potential plaintiff is a driver who received a ticket at the accident scene.

And if the other driver files a claim or lawsuit against you, and you are the only driver who received a ticket, your insurance company is probably going to settle the case as quickly as possible because, if the other driver goes to court against you, he or she is almost definitely going to win. Learn more about When You Are Responsible for a Car Accident.

Contesting the Ticket

So, if you are issued a traffic ticket for an accident in which you were injured, you will have to contest the ticket if you want to have any chance of making a successful claim for your injuries against the other driver. The procedures for contesting a traffic ticket differ from state to state, but, in general, you will have to notify some governmental agency (usually the police, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the court that has jurisdiction over the city or town where you were issued the ticket) that you are contesting the ticket. The deadline for contesting a ticket is usually quite short, 14 or 21 days. The instructions for contesting a ticket are always printed right on the ticket.

At the hearing, it will be your word against the officer's. If you have any witnesses who will support your version of events, you should bring them. And it’s always a good idea to take pictures of anything at the scene that could help bolster your position, and bring them to court.

Learn more about Contesting a Traffic Ticket.

Practically speaking, if you were injured in a car accident and you want to be able to file a claim against the other driver, you probably don't want to contest the ticket on your own. You'll probably want to consider hiring a lawyer who specializes in traffic tickets. Yes, it will cost some money, but if you feel that the other driver was really at fault for the accident, and especially if you've suffered serious injuries, it might be worth it to do whatever it takes to get that ticket dismissed, or else you will have little to no chance of getting a satisfactory settlement. And if the judge or magistrate upholds the ticket at trial, then you will have no choice but to appeal the ticket in order to have any chance of pursuing a personal injury claim over the accident. (More details on Hiring a Lawyer to Fight a Ticket.)

What If Both Drivers Are Cited Over the Accident?

When both drivers receive tickets, then both will likely be considered at least partially at fault for the crash. There is no automatic finding that both drivers are equally at fault just because both received tickets. This is when the issue of liability for the accident can get pretty contentious, with both drivers (or, perhaps more accurately, both drivers' insurance companies) scrambling to prove that the other driver was more to blame for the accident. So this is a situation where it's important to watch what you say. (More: Do I Have to Talk to the Other Driver's Car Insurance Company After an Accident?) And it may also be time to turn your case over to an experienced car accident attorney.

If you've been involved in a car accident within the last three years, please consider taking our car accident survey so that we can include your experience in Martindale-Nolo's 2016 Car Accident Survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before dealing with their car accident.

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