Collisions in which one car strikes another car from the rear are among the most common types of car accidents. Fortunately, they are often less devastating than head-on collisions and side-impact accidents because the people in the front car are further from the site of the impact, and these crashes tend to occur at lower speeds. They may happen at traffic lights or stop signs, or on congested highways. The common assumption (and a legal presumption in many states) is that the rear driver is at fault for a rear-end collision, but this is not always true. In some circumstances, the rear driver may be able to rebut the presumption and show that the front driver or another party was at least partly at fault.
Determining Which Driver Was at Fault
Drivers need to leave a safe distance between their car and the vehicle in front of them, refraining from tailgating and allowing the front driver to come to a stop when needed. This takes into account the possibility of unexpected hazards that may arise on the road. There may be debris or an animal on the road, or traffic may suddenly slow down for construction, poor weather, or some other reason. Someone who fails to leave a safe distance or who engages in aggressive behavior like tailgating another driver likely will be liable for a rear-end collision.
The front driver may bear some responsibility for the crash if they fail to use proper precautions in making traffic maneuvers or violate the rules of the road. If a driver suddenly stops to make a turn without using their turn signal, a driver behind them may have an argument that this was negligent. Another situation in which the front driver may be liable is when they shift into reverse suddenly when this would not be the expected maneuver under the circumstances. Drivers also are expected to keep their vehicles in a safe condition and handle any breakdowns prudently. Failing to pull over when a tire goes flat or a car suffers from a malfunction may be considered negligent. Moreover, drivers need to keep their brake lights in a functional condition so that drivers behind them can tell when they are slowing down.
In many rear-end collisions, both drivers are at fault to some extent. This means that their state’s rule of comparative negligence will apply. Each driver will be assigned a percentage of fault for the accident, and then each can recover a damages award that is proportionate to the other driver’s percentage of fault. (States that use contributory negligence will not allow either driver to recover damages from the other if both were at fault.)
Suing Other Parties
Other parties may be partly responsible for a rear-end collision in some cases. If the rear driver’s brakes malfunctioned, they may be able to bring the manufacturer of the brakes into the lawsuit. However, they need to raise this argument as soon as possible after the accident for an insurer to find it persuasive. If the collision resulted from an unexpected hazard in the road that caused a sudden stop, either or both drivers may be able to sue the party that was responsible for the hazard. For example, if debris fell off a truck, they may be able to sue the truck driver or trucking company, based on their negligent failure to secure the truck’s cargo. Proving causation may be more challenging in these cases, since carelessness by one or both drivers may be viewed as an intervening factor that broke the causal chain leading from the hazard to the accident. Each case is different, and victims can consult a car accident lawyer for guidance on the potential range of responsible parties.