Recently, I have had a number clients who have been involved in auto accidents where they have been partially at fault for an accident and have not been treated fairly by their own insurance company.
NRS 687B.385 states: “An insurer shall not cancel, refuse to renew, or increase the premium for renewal of a policy of motor vehicle insurance covering private passenger cars of commercial vehicles as a result of any claims made under the policy with respect to which the insured was not at fault.”
What is an “at-fault accident”?
This statute was interpreted by the Nevada Supreme Court in the case of State Division of Ins. vs. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 Nev. 290, 995 P.2d 482(2000). This case interpreted NRS NRS 687B.385 to include accidents in which the insured was 50% at fault or less. This case put NRS 687B.385 in conformance with NRS 41.141, Nevada’s comparative negligence statute. This decision means that an insured is at fault for an accident when his liability for a two-vehicle accident is exactly 50/50, even though he can still recover 50% of his damages from the other driver under NRS 41.141.
Therefore, an assessment of 50% liability (or more) by your insurance company for an accident as an at-fault accident and will probably result in an increase in your auto insurance rates. If you are involved in another at-fault accident, your policy will probably be cancelled. Let me give you a real life example.
A vehicle making a lefthand turn going southbound to eastbound at an intersection enters a very wide lane, and stays to the left hand side of that lane. Another vehicle, at about the same time, traveling northbound makes a right hand turn and enters the same lane but stays to the right hand side of the same lane. The driver of the vehicle on the right then comes face to face with roadway signs indicating that the roadway lane is narrowing and she must merge to the left. She does so and collides with the other vehicle traveling on the left hand side of the lane.
Both drivers are insured by the same insurance company. The vehicle on the right was forced to merge left because the lane narrowed into a single lane width. Roadside hazard/warning signs forced the driver on the right to merge to her left. The vehicle on the left was already on the left side of the roadway and did not have to change it’s position within the lane to enter the narrowed portion of the lane.
Insurance Company Assessment
Anyone reading this fact pattern would automatically assume that the driver on the right hand side of the travel lane is more at fault for this accident than the driver on the left. However, the insurance carrier, who was the same company for both parties, determined liability at 50/50 and assessed both drivers with an at-fault accident and raised both drivers’ insurance rates.
The insurance company’s assessment of 50/50 liability for this accident is unrealistic because:
- The driver on the left had no duty to anticipate the fact that the driver on the right was going to swerve into her vehicle;
- If the vehicle on the right did use her left hand turn signal, the vehicle on the left, could not see it because the vehicle on the right was not in front of her vehicle; and
- The accident occurred eighty-six (86) feet east of the intersection where both vehicles entered the same roadway.
According to Nevada case law, the adverse effect of a 50/50 assessment of liability will result in the increase of both drivers’ insurance rates for an at-fault accident. In the event that there was an assessment of 51/49 liability in favor of the driver on the left and against the driver on the right, the insurance company could not raise the rates for the driver on the left for an at fault accident.
Obviously, there is no exact science to assessment liability for any accident, however based on the facts and circumstances of this accident, a 50/50 liability assessment is completely unrealistic.
So, why did the insurance company raise the rates of both drivers? The only reason is for an economic benefit. Raising the rates of both drivers results in the insurance company recouping its losses for this accident more quickly from the increased insurance premiums from both drivers, as compared to raising the rates for only one driver. And, the insurance company only has to pay 50% of each party’s property damage, thus forcing the insured drivers to pay their own collision deductibles in order to have their vehicles repaired.
After the insurance company was asked to review the facts and circumstances surrounding this accident and to change it’s liability decision by one percent in favor of the vehicle on the left, they refused.
Now, if in the future, liability can be determined by a trier of fact in favor of the vehicle on the left, will the insurance company return the driver on the left’s increased premiums and collision deductible? Did the insurance company act in bad faith concerning their liability apportionment decision?
Therefore, if you are in an at-fault accident where your insurance company assesses liability against you at 50/50 (or more), you will be assessed with an at fault accident. You should also be aware of the adverse consequences of increased rates and cancellation of your policy. You should also consult an attorney for legal advice concerning the insurance company’s decision.
If you or your children are involved with a fender bender accident where you are at fault, or partially at-fault, and nobody is hurt, and law enforcement isn’t involved; you should consider working out the property damage with the other driver to avoid increased insurance rates and/or cancellation of your policy.