Every accident is different. However, in certain types of common car accidents, fault can be relatively simple to determine.
One of these is the rear end accident. In almost all rear end cases, the vehicle in the rear will be at fault.
Why is this the case, and are there any exceptions? We will explain all about how rear end accidents work, and what to expect if you find yourself in one.
What Is a Rear End Accident, Exactly?
A rear end accident occurs when the front of one vehicle collides with the rear of another, typically when both are traveling in the same direction in traffic.
Rear end accidents frequently occur when the driver in front reduces their speed. All sorts of factors, including distracted driving and slippery roads, can factor into a rear end accident.
Here in Los Angeles, the notoriously congested freeways make these types of accidents especially likely. The same goes for rainy weather. (Sometimes we Californians forget to drive safely in the rain, because it is so rare here!)
Around 1,700 people die every year in rear end accidents in the United States. Considering that over 30,000 people die in auto accidents every year in our country, this makes rear end accidents one of the less deadly types of auto accident.
However, this does not mean that they are mild or should not be taken seriously. They can still lead to serious injury. Whiplash (a soft tissue injury to the neck) is one of the most common consequences of such an accident.
Rear end accidents are also especially dire for motorcyclists. Since motorcyclists do not have the walls of a vehicle to protect them from the road, even a rear end at low speeds can knock a motorcyclist onto the pavement, frequently killing or seriously injuring the motorcyclist.
Why Is the Rear Driver Usually at Fault?
In a rear end accident under ordinary circumstances, the driver in the rear will be found at fault.
If you were the driver in front during a rear end accident, this is good news for you. It means that the liability portion of your case will most likely be relatively simple for your attorney to try. And getting the insurance company to accept liability is typically easy.
If you were the driver in the rear… the case will still be straightforward, but this might not be such good news on you end.
But why are drivers in the rear found at fault? Recall that a car accident lawsuit is based on demonstrating negligence, and to prove negligence, you must show that the other driver in an accident breached their duty of care to drive safely while in your vicinity.
There are many aspects to a driver’s duty of care, including the duty to obey all traffic signs and signals, and to watch the road for potential hazards. However, one aspect of this duty of care involves the duty to follow the vehicle ahead of you at a safe distance, taking into account the possibility that the vehicle might brake unexpectedly.
There is no parallel duty to lead at a safe distance; i.e. to make sure that the vehicle behind you is a safe distance away. This is because a driver’s primary focus is on the road in front of them. If something comes from behind, they have only limited control over that.
It’s simple. Since each driver has a duty to the vehicles in front of them, then if you hit a vehicle in front of you, it will be legally considered your fault.
Are There Any Situations Where the Front Driver Is at Fault?
Yes, but very few. The rule of the rear driver being at fault holds true in almost all ordinary cases. There are only a few narrowly defined exceptions.
It is more likely, although still rare, that the front driver will be found to have been partially responsible for the accident. Under California’s comparative negligence laws, this means that they will still be able to recover damages, but the amount of damages will be reduced somewhat to recognize the fact that they shared the fault.
If a driver slows suddenly for no good reason, but simply to endanger the driver behind them out of spite, then this may reduce or eliminate entirely the rear driver’s share of fault. This practice is known as brake-checking.
Similarly, if a driver in front slows so as to entrap the driver behind in an elaborate insurance scam, then they will be at fault. These scams, known as “brake slam” and “swoop and squat” scams, do happen, and sometimes involve multiple drivers boxing you in so that you cannot swerve. Unfortunately, if you are victimized by such a scam, it may be hard to prove your innocence!
If a driver in front has faulty brake lights, then this may reduce the rear driver’s liability, because that will make it harder for the rear driver to see that the vehicle ahead is slowing.
If a driver in front is having engine trouble or a flat tire, but does not turn on their emergency blinkers or begin pulling over, then they may be at least partially at fault if they are rear-ended… which is why you should always turn on your blinkers as soon as you encounter a mechanical problem on the road.
Finally, if a driver puts their vehicle in reverse unexpectedly, and hits another vehicle behind them, then the rear vehicle will not be held responsible for the accident. This is such a flagrant violation of the rules of the road that ordinary duties of care will not apply!
These are a few of the situations where fault for the rear driver may be reduced or eliminated entirely. But like we said, they are the exception and not the norm.
What About Chain Reaction Crashes?
So far, we have been speaking about rear-end crashes as though there are always only two vehicles involved. But sometimes, a vehicle will rear-end another vehicle with such force that the second vehicle may hit a third vehicle in front of it.
This vehicle, in turn, may hit a fourth vehicle, and the worst chain reaction crashes (which typically occur during bad weather and/or crowded rush hour conditions) may involve dozens of vehicles.
As is the case in rear end crashes involving only two vehicles, the first driver (i.e. the driver in the rear of the chain) will be held responsible. However, there can be variations on this. For instance, if another car comes along and rear-ends the rear car after the initial crash, then this new vehicle will be responsible for its role in the crash.
These accidents, in short, are complex. Since so many vehicles are involved, damages can range very high.
Is It Hard to Get Damages for Rear End Accidents?
As we mentioned above, fault in a rear end crash is simple to determine but this does not necessarily guarantee that you will receive fair compensation for your injuries.
One of the most common injuries that occurs in a rear-end accident are neck related injuries, including whiplash, and this can be a particularly difficult type of injury to properly diagnose.
For one thing, the symptoms may not show up immediately, so they may be missed in the initial evaluation following the accident. For another, while insurance companies are obligated pursuant to the Insurance Code to provide a claimant with a fair and reasonable offer for their injuries, they rarely do.
Remember, insurance company are in the business of making money and their internal guidelines reward their insurance adjusters for minimizing claims and claim value. In fact, they love dealing with an unrepresented client, because they know they can take advantage of their naivete and settle their claim below real value. For that very reason, we often see adjusters trying to reach the claimants early before they’ve had an opportunity to retain counsel and offer them low value settlements in the hopes of having them sign a release of liability, before the claimant has had a chance to lawyer up. Hence, if you want to get fair value for your injuries, you will need to hire an attorney who knows what they are doing, and can fight to prove your claim.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Rear End Crashes?
According to the NTSB, rear end crashes can be prevented by vehicles with proper collision avoidance systems, which include both collision warning and autonomous early braking. When purchasing a car, this is something you should try to include with your vehicle.
However, the responsibility for preventing rear end accidents, as with all accidents, ultimately lies with the driver.
Whenever you are driving, you must maintain a safe following distance from the cars in front of you. Typically, the recommended distance is two (or three seconds): if it takes fewer than two (or three) seconds between the time that the car in front of you on the road passes a fixed spot and you pass it, then you should slow down. In poor weather conditions, this should increase to four seconds, and on icy roads, to six or more.
Hopefully, by following these guidelines, you will avoid becoming at-fault party in a rear end crash. But you can never be 100% safe from the risk of becoming the victim in a rear end crash, and if this occurs, then you will need a personal injury attorney.
If you have been injured in an accident, then contact the Law Offices of Jennie Levin, P.C. We will do all that we can to help you. Also, if you found this article interesting and you believe that your friends would be interested in learning more about this, then share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Finally, feel free to leave us a comment, and let us know what questions you would like us to answer next!