Sometimes, it’s obvious who was at fault in an accident, but then there are times when both drivers carry some fault. In cases where both drivers broke a traffic law or created a dangerous situation, comparative negligence usually goes into effect. Even then, fault and responsibility for coverage of damages is determined differently in different states.

How is Fault Determined?

When an accident occurs, it’s important that you don’t admit fault to anyone—not even the police. This includes statements of guilt (“I’m sorry”) and statements of accusation (“You crossed the double line!”) However, it’s very important that you do give the police and your personal injury attorney an honest report of what took place—be factual about what took place (i.e. she braked suddenly because a chunk of re-treaded tire flew off the semi in front of her; I swerved and hit the rear corner of her car.)

All but 12 states go by tort law, which means that someone must be held to be at fault for an accident and must be responsible for damages—both their own and those of other parties. Twelve states—including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, and Kentucky—are no-fault states. In these states, drivers are responsible for their own damages, regardless of fault.

What is Comparative Negligence?

In tort states, the next determination is whether the driver with the most responsibility holds full or partial fault for the accident. In most states, the ability to collect damages will depend on the percentage of fault held by the claimant. For instance, if you are trying to collect damages and you were determined to be 30 percent at fault, you can only collect 70 percent of your claim.

There are only five states where this is not the case: Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. In those states, they go by the pure contributory negligence law, which means that, if an injured party is as little as one percent at fault, he or she may not collect damages.

Pure comparative fault states—about one-third of the states—are the opposite. They allow parties to collect damages, regardless of their percentage of fault. So a driver who was 99 percent at fault can sue for one percent of the damages. California is one of these states.

Most states follow the modified comparative fault rule. In these states, a party that 50 or 51 percent or more liable is not allowed to sue for damages.

The laws governing fault and personal injury claims are complicated. If you’ve been in an accident, it’s important to get a personal injury lawyer to look at your claim as soon as possible to determine if you need to file for damages.