What to do if I’m being held responsible for an accident that was not my fault?

I was driving in a highway when there was a car accident next to me. A car swerved into my lane and I swerved to avoid it. I only know that the car was a silver Nissan Altima, I did not get the license plate number. The reason I swerved was that I was driving a 12 passenger van and the impact would have flipped the van and caused a more severe accident. The traffic flow was about 70 mph. I looked before I swerved and there was no vehicle close by but I heard a bang behind me so I pulled over and inspected my vehicle. There was no damage but then another vehicle had hit the guard rail and she stated that she hit it in order to avoid hitting me. Now here insurance is trying to blame the accident on me. What are my options?

Asked on October 23, 2014 under Accident Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

To answer your basic question: no, you can't be held liable if you were not at-fault in an accident; *but* your opinion of whether you were at-fault does not control. If the other side or their insurer believes you were at fault, they can ask for money from you; if you don't pay, they could choose to sue you; if they sue you, a court will hear all the evidence and testimony and decide who was at fault.

If it comes to a trial, you will have several problems:

1) It appears there is no evidence of the third car, the silver Altima, so you may not be believed that you swerved to avoid it;

2) If you were going 70mph, you were (presumably) exceeding the speed limit, which could make you at fault (since it is often negligent or careless to driver faster than the speed limit);

3) in particular, if driving a cumbersome, prone-to-flip 12-person van, you should be driving at a speed that will allow you to easily maintain control.

So from what you write, if sued, there is a reasonable chance you would be found liable.

As to what you can do:

a) If you have insurance, report this to them and see what they want to do--they should either defend you or settle the case.

b) If you don't have insurance, you can opt to either defend (based on your claim that you were not at fault; but see above for some issues you'll have) or settle (offer some amount you can afford to pay).

c) If you have insurance but for some reason they will not help, you may need to defend or settle the case yourself while also potentially suing your insurer for breach of contract (not honoring their obligations).


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