Question: As my husband backed up in a parking lot, another car also did. Both cars have damage on the rear bumpers, no dents, really nothing more than just paint scrapes. Is this a 50/50 situation or would my husband be responsible for all the repairs? 

Answer: The smart decision would be for both drivers to fix their paint scrapes and not involve insurance. Insurance protects you from big losses, and a paint scrape is not a big loss. Numerous small claims can negatively affect your car insurance rates as much as one big one.

But if you’ve decided to use your insurance, there are two options. One is for each driver to fix their own car through collision coverage if they have it. Each would owe their collision deductible, but there would be no complications involving fault. And fault can get very, very complicated depending on the negligence laws in your state.

It sounds as if there may be some disagreement about fault, though. You must take due care when backing up, and it appears both drivers didn’t. Thus, each is negligent to some degree.

If each driver is adamant that the other driver is at fault, then they each can put a claim through the other party’s property damage liability coverage and then each driver’s insurer will then determine fault, and if the claim will be accepted.

If you live in a comparative negligence state, liability can be divided according to the percentage that each driver is to blame for the incident. There are various types of comparative negligence.

Pure comparative negligence states allow each driver to receive compensation only for the percentage he is not at fault. Thus, your husband could make a claim, but if he is 60% at fault, the other driver’s insurer will pay for only 40% of the damage.

Some states have modified comparative negligence laws that have a threshold of 50% or 51%.

In a comparative negligence state with a 50% rule, your husband could recover from the other party only if he is found 49% or less at fault. So, neither driver would receive compensation from the other driver’s insurance company if the accident is found to be 50/50.

In a comparative negligence state with a 51% rule, your husband and the other driver could claim against each other if each is found 50% or less at fault for the damages.

There also are contributory negligence states. Here, you cannot recover from the other party’s insurer if you are found any part (even just 1%) to blame in the incident. So, neither driver in your situation could make a claim.

— Penny Gusner contributed to this story.

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