Getting into a car accident is an unpleasant experience at the best of times. It can be even more unsettling if your insurance rates go up for something that isn’t your fault. That might seem unfair, but it can happen if the company believes the accident indicates you’re a higher risk than previously thought, or if it places some of the blame for the accident on you regardless of what the authorities determined.

Determining Risk

Insurance agencies set their rates based on their perception of risk. Each company has proprietary risk models that use historical data to determine what behaviors or traits tend to indicate a higher potential to file a claim, and set their rates accordingly. Accidents are a part of that calculation, whether you’re at fault or not – but fault does play a part in how serious the effects are. A minor accident that isn’t your fault likely won’t see a premium increase; a major accident that is your fault will.

Lone Accident or Trend?

Every policy is different, but your policy is unlikely to rise after a single accident that wasn’t your fault. If another driver hit you and the police and the insurance companies agree that you aren’t to blame, being in the wrong place at the wrong time won’t hurt you. On the other hand, a series of accidents may cause your insurance rates to rise, even if none are determined to be your fault, because the pattern of behavior may raise a red flag. If your car has been rear-ended three times in a six-month span, for example, the insurance company may decide that there’s a chance you’re doing something unsafe that’s helping to cause these accidents, such as braking too suddenly or driving on unsafe roads.

Who Determines Fault?

Just because the police report indicates that the accident wasn’t your fault doesn’t mean the insurance company will agree. The insurance company will read the police report, but also may collect witness statements or gather other information before coming to a conclusion, which may not match what the police determined. If that’s the case, the insurance company’s decision holds sway for rate-determining purposes, and in most states, there’s no avenue for appeal.

Lone-Driver Blues

In one-car accidents, you’ll almost always be found at fault regardless of what may have contributed to the accident, which could then have an effect on your rates. If you skid on a patch of black ice and hit a tree, for example, you might have been driving responsibly, but the insurance company is still going to ding you for it because of your risk factor.