Are You Always At Fault in a Rear-End Collision?

A rear-end crash is usually fairly minor, although not always. In just one year, there were recently an estimated 1.7 million rear-end crashes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Association, rear-end collisions are the cause of more than 7% of fatal accidents in a year, which does show that they can be severe.

The most common causes of rear-end collisions are speeding, distracted driving, and tailgating.

One question people often have is whether or not they’re always at fault if they’re the back car in a rear-end collision.

The following are things to know.

Common Causes of Rear-End Collisions

These were briefly touched on above, but more details about some of the most common causes of rear-end collisions are detailed below.

  • Tailgating: The most frequent reason that rear-end collisions occur overall is tailgating. When you’re tailgating, your reaction time is significantly diminished. If the car in front of you slams on breaks or even just slows down relatively suddenly, you might not be able to avoid hitting them.
  • Distracted driving: This is a huge risk, and distracted driving can cause you to not be able to stop in time, according to the actions of the driver in front of you. Distracted driving doesn’t just mean you’re using your phone. It can also mean you’re doing something to your car’s infotainment system, drinking, or eating.
  • Speeding: Another reason for rear-end collisions that’s often seen is speeding. If you’re going higher than the posted speed limit, you might not be able to stop your car in time, and you could hit another vehicle.
  • Weather: If there’s a lot of rain or snow or icy conditions, it can prevent you from being able to stop in time. That’s why it’s important to adjust your speed accordingly depending on the weather and road conditions.
  • Car problems: Sometimes, an issue with your vehicle could lead you to rear-end another driver. For example, if your braking system is faulty or not properly maintained, you might not be able to stop in time.

There is a presumption that is often true, which is that a rear-end accident is always the fault of the driver that hit the car in front. While this typically holds true, it’s not inherently true.

Negligence

In any car accident case, there’s a term called negligence.

Negligence is used to describe what happens when your behavior is below a standard of care. If your behavior or actions are below what the average, reasonable person would do in the same situation, you may be negligent in a car accident.

All drivers who share the roadway have a duty to one another. That just means that you’re expected to behave responsibly when you operate a vehicle.

In a legal situation, you have to prove another driver breached their duty of care, and that led to an accident. This is where things can get a bit trickier.

Then, a third factor that has to be shown in these cases is that the breach of duty from the other driver caused the accident, and then you have to show it led to damages.

Fault In Rear-End Accidents

In a rear-end accident, it’s almost always the case that the driver in the back will be considered at least partially negligent. This is because as part of your duty of care on the road, you are expected to follow only at a safe distance.

This way, even if the driver in front of you does something unexpected, you should theoretically have enough time to stop accordingly.

There are a few situations where you might not be considered negligent, though.

One would be if the driver in front of you reversed suddenly.

Another situation where you might not be at fault even as the rear car is if a driver stops to make a turn and then doesn’t. If the forward car’s brake lights don’t work, then that could also be an example when you’re not at fault, even if you hit them.

Drunk driving, road rage, or pulling out in front of another car may be instances where the lead driver is at fault.

What If Multiple Vehicles Are Involved?

It’s often the case that rear-end accidents involve multiple cars. That means it could be a chain reaction collision. The vehicle that initially gets hit from behind then hits another car in front of them, and it continues on.

Multiple drivers can be found liable in these cases.

No-Doubt Liability

There’s a term called no-doubt liability and it does tend to be applicable to rear-end accidents. This means that in nearly all situations if you’re in this type of accident, the other driver is at fault.

Rear-end collisions do fall into this category, and an insurance company probably won’t argue about it most of the time.

The situations above where you’re not at fault as the rear car are very rare.

Other examples of no-double liability accidents include left-turn accidents. When a car is making a left turn, it is almost always considered liable if it hits a car coming straight from the other direction.

The main exception to this might be if the car going straight was speeding by a significant amount, or the car going straight went through a red light.

Another exception could be if the car turning left thought it was safe, but then something unexpected made it have to stop or slow down.

Depending on where you live, there may be a comparative negligence system or contributory negligence. Only a few states use contributory negligence. This means that if you can show that the other driver contributed to an accident to any degree, then they can’t recover damages.

Comparative negligence establishes fault between drivers. Your liability could be reduced if the other driver had any responsibility for the accident.

So what is the takeaway from this?

In almost all cases, if you’re in an accident and you rear-end someone, you’re going to be at fault unless they did something like reversing. There are only a few exceptions.

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