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The CHP said I was at fault, so what can I do?
Even California Highway Patrol officers will admit that they are not the last word on who is at fault in an accident. Their determination is simply an opinion that one officer has put on the accident or incident report, perhaps as a convenience to the persons involved, who will need to file a claim with their insurance company. Unless a major crash is involved, the CHP does not have the time and the resources to thoroughly investigate the details of each accident that happened on the roads.
It can take many hours of officers, supervisors and accident investigatorss to evaluate the road, the wreckage, the street signs and lights, and interview all victims and potential witnesses to get an accurate picture and report of what truly occurred. Even if that is peformed, errors can occur or major causes may be overlooked. Did the report consider each driver’s visibility and the signs and warnings? Did the report consider that some of the drivers and witnesses may have not seen something important or that their perspective of the scene or recall of the events may be faulty or biased?
Even when the accident report assigns fault to one driver, that does not mean that the other drivers are free of liability or that the driver who was declared “at fault” will have to pay for everything or have his or her insurance pay 100% to everyone else. Until you’ve consulted with your own lawyer, each driver should know the practical limits of the officer’s report and not assume that it is correct or the “final word” on accident liability.
In our system, only a court of law or other adjudicative body, after hearing all of the evidence, can determine which drivers were at fault and by what percentage of fault. The judge or jury will need to hear and consider numerous witnesses and experts, then the arguments of the lawyers and the judge’s reading of the jury instructions. Trials can last for several days, weeks or months to get to a final verdict or judgment. It is worth a painstaking review, however, as many verdicts reach into multi-millions of dollars in damages awarded. Also, it would be a big surprise if the percentage of liability of each driver followed exactly what the original officer wrote on the report.