While any collision involving a motor vehicle has the potential to cause severe injury or death, rear-end accidents are among the most deadly. Often, these collisions involve a fast-moving vehicle colliding with a stationary one. And in most cases, the driver of the car that is struck has little to no opportunity to do anything to avoid the accident or prepare for the impact.
Besides being dangerous, rear-end car accidents are one of the most common types of accidents. According to the Insurance Information Institute, rear-end collisions account for more than seven percent of all fatal traffic accidents, including those involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and single-vehicle accidents. Additionally, rear-end accidents are the single leading cause of accident-related injuries, with 29 percent of all injury-causing accidents arising from rear-end collisions.
Given the frequency with which these accidents occur and the high likelihood of injury, a significant number of the car accident cases filed each year are based on rear-end accidents. Determining fault and allocating responsibility in a rear-end accident may seem straightforward, but that is not always the case.
Examples of Rear-End Car Accidents
Rear-end accidents can occur in a variety of ways. However, some scenarios arise more often than others. For example, the following are common rear-end accident scenarios:
- A driver does not notice the car in front of them has its turn signal on and rear-ends the car as it slows down to make the turn;
- A distracted driver does not realize that traffic up head has slowed down and runs into the rear of a stopped or slow-moving vehicle;
- An aggressive driver speeds up, planning on driving through a yellow light, but the driver ahead of them stops at the light; or
- A driver crashes into the car ahead of them after a traffic signal turns green, assuming the other driver would be faster to accelerate.
In each of these situations, the driver coming from behind is distracted, rushed, or not paying attention. In fact, in the vast majority of rear-end accidents, the rear-ending driver is at least partially – if not completely – at fault. However, there are situations in which the leading driver may share responsibility for the collision.
Liability in Rear-End Collisions
Rear-end accident cases are based on the theory of negligence. Winning a lawsuit requires a plaintiff to prove that the other driver violated a duty of care they owed to the plaintiff.
Of course, distracted driving, aggressive driving, and inattentive driving can all be the basis of a negligence claim. Often, police will issue the driver of the striking car a ticket. While this does not necessarily guarantee that the driver will be found legally negligent in a subsequent personal injury case, it can help.
A plaintiff may be able to rely on the doctrine of negligence per se, which presumes negligence when a driver violates a statute or law passed to protect against the specific type of harm caused by the driver’s conduct. Notably, some states only apply negligence per se to violations of criminal statutes, while others allow plaintiffs to use the doctrine based on traffic violations.
Comparative Fault and Contributory Negligence in Rear-End Accidents
While many rear-end accidents result from the negligence of the driver in the rear, in some situations, both drivers share responsibility. For instance, consider the following examples:
- The driver in front suddenly slams on the brakes for no reason;
- The driver in front stops and puts the car in reverse;
- The vehicle in front has malfunctioning brake lights; or
- The driver in front fails to signal when slowing down to make a turn.
In these situations, it is vital to understand how the doctrines of comparative fault or contributory negligence can come into play.
Courts use the doctrines of comparative fault and contributory negligence to determine which accident victims are legally entitled to pursue a claim for damages. Below is a brief description of the three most common forms of these doctrines:
Pure comparative fault
Any accident victim who suffered injuries as a result of an accident, regardless of their own fault, can pursue a claim against any other at-fault party. The accident victim’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.
Modified comparative fault
Similar to a pure comparative fault, the doctrine of modified comparative fault allows accident victims who shared responsibility for an accident to recover reduced compensation. However, accident victims who are more than 50 percent (or 51 percent, in some states) are entirely precluded from recovery.
The most draconian of the three doctrines, contributory fault bars any plaintiff from recovering for their injuries if they were even the slightest bit at fault for causing the collision.
Regardless of which doctrine applies, it is crucial that rear-end accident victims are ready to defend against another driver’s claim that they shared blame for causing the accident. An experienced car accident attorney can help accident victims investigate their claim and prepare a strong case for maximum recovery.