Car accidents occur in a variety of ways. From fender benders to high-speed head-on collisions, the scenarios are almost endless. But rear-end collisions are one of the most common kinds of car accidents. Generally speaking, the driver who rear-ends the leading car is legally responsible (liable) for damages resulting from the accident. But there are exceptions to the rule, including:
Get the basics on proving fault for a car accident.
Every driver on the road has a duty to follow other vehicles at a safe distance that varies depending on vehicle speed, road conditions, and a whole host of other factors. Drivers who breach (violate) this duty are negligent. That's why, in a rear-end accident, the trailing driver who rear-ends the lead vehicle will almost always be found at least partially negligent (at fault for the accident).
But it's possible for the driver of the car that gets rear-ended to be negligent too, including when:
So, what happens when trailing and lead drivers share fault for an accident? The rules vary from state to state based on contributory and comparative negligence laws.
Negligence is the term used to describe behavior that hurts others and falls below a basic standard of care. Basically, you are negligent if you don't act in a reasonable way, and someone is injured as a result. What constitutes reasonable behavior depends on the circumstances surrounding the accident.
To prove that a car accident was caused by driver negligence, you must first show that the driver had a duty of care. This is pretty simple because all drivers owe a duty to other people on the road to not do something that might cause an accident.
Second, you must show that the other driver breached this duty. Drivers in rear-end collisions can breach their duty of reasonable care in a number of ways, including failing to:
Third, you must prove the other driver's breach of duty was the cause of the accident. Finally, you must establish that you suffered damages as a result of the accident. This includes car accident injuries and vehicle damage.
This is fairly simple in theory, especially when it's easy to identify the at-fault driver. But what happens when the negligence of two or more drivers caused the accident?
If more than one driver is at fault for a car accident, the outcome will vary from state to state. A few states still follow a fairly harsh "contributory negligence" system, but most have adopted "comparative negligence" rules. Let's take a look at the difference between the two.
Only a handful of states still subscribe to this system. Essentially, under the law of contributory negligence, if Driver A can show that Driver B's negligence contributed to the accident to any degree, Driver B can't recover anything at all in a lawsuit against Driver B. So if Driver B was 1% at fault for the accident, they get nothing from Driver A, even if Driver A was 99% at fault.
Comparative negligence allocates fault between drivers. A driver's liability may be reduced, but not necessarily eliminated, if the other driver is partly at fault for the accident. There are two variations of the comparative negligence system:
These shared fault rules will apply in the event that your car accident lawsuit goes all the way to trial, but insurance adjusters also keep these principles in mind when negotiating a settlement after a car accident.
In most rear-end collisions, the driver of the tail vehicle will be legally responsible for paying for the lead driver's monetary damages. The repair costs for the lead vehicle are typically easy to calculate, so many car insurance companies are quick to pay for those costs. But a complication often arises when it comes to paying for the lead driver's medical bills. That's because common personal injuries from rear-end collisions are back and whiplash injuries, which are often hard to quantify, as they don't always show up on diagnostic exams.
It might seem like identifying the at-fault driver is obvious after a rear-end crash, but there could be small details that can completely shift the liability picture. Even if fault for the accident is no longer in question, the issue of how much you may owe in damages might be in dispute, especially when you and the other driver share blame for the accident.
A car accident lawyer can answer your questions and help you with all phases of a car insurance claim or lawsuit process, including proving fault. Learn more about hiring and working with a lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.