Do I have to pay for damage that I didn’t cause?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Do I have to pay for damage that I didn’t cause?

About 2 months ago, my car slid on ice and collided with a guardrail, I was only going about 5-10 mph by the time I hit it and I only scratched my car no damage was done to the rail. Since no damage was done I started to drive away to get off the freeway to avoid being hit by other cars I saw losing control in the snow and about a mile away a police officer stopped to ask what happened and gave me a red tag saying I did the right thing and didn’t do a hit and run basically. Fast forward to now I got a letter stating I owe $400 for damage. When I called to see what damage was supposedly done they said another car collided in the same spot later that night knocking down three posts and they didn’t know who caused what damage so they split the bill between us. I didn’t do any damage so I don’t think that I should pay and if the officer had asked me to show him where I collided and assessed the scene he would know that but since he didnt theyre unsure of who caused it. Can I get out of this?

Asked on March 1, 2018 under Accident Law, South Dakota


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You can refuse to pay, let them sue you, and force them to prove in court that you caused $400 worth of damage. If they cannot prove that you caused this damage, you do not have to pay it: liability (an obligation to pay) must be based on proof by a "preponderance of the evidence" that you caused the harm. It is VERY unlikely they can win by just "splitting the bill"--the law doesn't work that way; you can't make someone pay because they *might* have caused the damage. Of course, if they do sue, you'll have to go through the time and trouble of appearing in court and defending a lawsuit, so you need to balance that vs. the money they seek in deciding what to do.

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