In a word, yes. It is a mistake to admit fault after a Los Angeles car accident, and for several reasons. Admitting fault after a car accident could result in unfair treatment by the legal system, even if you really are partly to blame for the accident.
Your admission could be just the evidence the opposing party needs to turn the tide of the case in their favor. Even a nonverbal “admission” of fault could hurt your case.
California’s “Pure Comparative Fault” Compensation System
Under California’s “pure comparative negligence” system, a court will distribute financial responsibility for an accident based on each party’s relative percentage of fault, based on the available evidence. In settlement negotiations, the parties will settle based on what they think a court would do if the case went to trial.
Suppose that John Doe is 30% at fault for an accident and Jane Roe is 70% at fault. John will have to pay for 30% of Jane’s losses, and he will lose 30% of his own compensation. Jane will have to pay for 70% of John’s losses, and she will lose 70% of her own compensation. If each party sustained $10,000 in damages, John would owe Jane $3,000, while Jane would owe John $7,000. Setting these two amounts against each other, Jane would ultimately owe John $4,000.
As you can see, the more fault the defendant can assign to the plaintiff (the party who files the complaint), the less money the defendant will have to pay. Accordingly, even an admission of partial fault could cost you a lot of money.
Insurance Adjuster Tricks
Insurance adjusters have a million tricks up their sleeves, and they will not hesitate to use them against you to secure what looks like an admission of fault. Beware one trick in particular: the recorded statement. The insurance adjuster might ask you to give a recorded statement where you answer questions.
You shouldn’t agree to this request at all. Let your attorney answer any questions the adjuster might have; your attorney is unlikely to fall for any of the insurance adjuster’s tricks. Hire a lawyer early on, and tell the insurance adjuster to direct any correspondence, either verbal or written, to your lawyer.
What is an admission of fault? There are different kinds. One is a statement you make to the police, the driver, a passenger, a witness, or an insurance adjuster. The other is a statement you make to someone else, including any statement you post on social media.
A third type of “admission” is not a statement at all. It could be a photo you upload, for example, that shows you drinking a beer on “game day,” the same day as the accident. Be very careful what you post on social media. In fact, consider suspending all your social media accounts until you resolve your claim.
Settlement vs. Trial
The great majority of car accident claims end in settlement, not at trial. So, how will an admission of fault impact settlement negotiations? Much in the same way that it might impact a trial, except that you will have more time to deal with the fallout. Insurance companies, who pay most car accident claims, settle a claim when they think it will be cheaper to settle than to take the case to trial.
Your admission of fault, however, will increase the insurance company’s confidence that they can win at trial or that the court will assign you a high percentage of fault. This, in turn, will toughen their stance during settlement negotiations. Ultimately, it will make it harder to reach an acceptable settlement and harder to win at trial.
Even if you plan to settle your case, you might still file a lawsuit to gain access to the pretrial discovery process. The pretrial discovery process is a court-supervised procedure whereby each party gathers evidence that is in the possession of the other party. During this process, you might make a damaging admission that could kill or drastically reduce the value of your claim.
A deposition is a Q&A session with the opposing party’s lawyer that is out of court but under oath. For all intents and purposes, it is a cross-examination. If you are deposed, watch out, you can be sure that the opposing lawyer will seek to trap you. They can use your words against you regardless of whether you bear any legitimate liability for the accident.
Two ways that you can minimize the chances that you will make a damaging admission during a deposition are:
- Repeatedly rehearse your deposition in advance with your attorney. Make sure your attorney is tough with you. That will prepare you for the ordeal you will face during your deposition.
- Bring your attorney with you to the deposition. Your attorney will provide you with moral support and notify you when you shouldn’t answer. They can help you in many other ways as well.
Keep in mind, however, that not all statements you might make are legally equivalent. “I ran the stop sign right before the accident” is an admission of fault. This is different from “The accident was my fault.” Such a statement is arguably a legal conclusion that you are not qualified to make.
Interrogatories are written questions that you must answer under oath. Typically, you have 30 days to answer an interrogatory, and you can answer in writing. You are less likely to make a damaging admission in an interrogatory than during a deposition. You will have plenty of time to consider and revise your answer during the 30-day response window.
It is best to have an attorney help you answer interrogatories. Some of the responses you might offer without an attorney’s advice might damage your claim without you realizing it. For example: “What was the exact time of the accident?” Suppose you answer “6:42 pm.” The opposing party might claim that the accident was your fault because you were checking the time instead of watching the road.
Regardless of whether you admitted fault, you’re probably better off with a lawyer than without one. If you did admit fault, a lawyer can help you limit the effect of your admission on your case. If you didn’t, a lawyer can help you avoid saying or doing anything in the future that might harm your claim. If you’d like to learn more, contact M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers by calling (877) 300-4535 to schedule your free consultation.