Rear-End Car Accident Caused by Faulty Brakes

In a rear-end collision involving faulty brakes, someone other than the tailing driver could be at fault.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

In the majority of rear-end traffic accidents, the tailing driver will be at fault for causing the crash. But what if there was nothing the tailing driver could reasonably do to prevent the accident, as when faulty brakes or brake failure are involved?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about two percent of car crashes are linked to mechanical problems with a vehicle, and brake problems are a critical reason for the accident in about a quarter of the crashes that occur within that two percent.

In this article, we'll examine what happens if you believe malfunctioning brakes caused your rear-end car accident, including:

  • what to do after the accident
  • why brakes sometimes malfunction
  • who could potentially be liable for an accident caused by faulty brakes, and
  • what the insurance claim or lawsuit process will look like after an accident involving faulty brakes.

What to Do Immediately After the Accident

After the accident, if there are injuries, call 9-1-1 for emergency medical services. Next, you'll want to take these additional steps to protect yourself in case of a future lawsuit or insurance claim. But if you believe that a brake problem contributed to the crash, there are three things you need to do as soon as possible.

Explain That Your Faulty Brakes Caused the Car Accident

First, if you think your brakes weren't working right and that they might have contributed to your accident, make that point clear to the other driver, witnesses, and the responding police officer. The longer you wait to blame your brakes, the less credible your argument will be.

Do Not Drive Away From the Accident Scene

Second, don't try to drive the car away from the accident scene. If your brakes are truly defective, it would be dangerous to continue driving. And even an attempt at driving away could give the impression that your brakes aren't as bad as you say they are.

Get Your Brakes Inspected

Third, get your vehicle's brakes inspected as soon as possible. Ideally, you want your vehicle taken straight from the accident scene to an experienced and ASE-certified mechanic. If you take your vehicle to a close friend who knows cars, or you take your car home first, it becomes easier for the other driver, their car insurance company, or an attorney to argue that your brakes were fine at the time of the accident or that you tampered with them afterward to fit the brake failure narrative.

Common Causes of Brake Failure

There are many reasons your brakes could fail to work properly while you're driving, including:

  • Worn-out brake pads: If pads have excessive wear, they won't work as effectively, especially in hard braking situations.
  • Grease or oil on the brake pads and/or rotors: Modern brakes work by taking advantage of friction. Grease and oil work by reducing friction. If grease or oil makes its way to your brakes, it could lead to poor braking performance.
  • Overheating brakes: If the brake rotors or brake pads get too hot, they won't work as well, which can lead to "brake fade," which is a reduction in braking power.
  • Leaking brake fluid: Not having enough fluid in your brake lines means you won't have enough liquid to transfer the force of your foot on the brake pedal to the brake pads pressing on the rotor or brake disc.
  • Air in your brake lines: The air bubbles in the brake line will deform under pressure, and this can lead to your brake pedal feeling soft and your vehicle not braking as well as it should.

The good news is that many of these common causes of brake failure and poor brake performance are preventable through regular vehicle maintenance. This includes getting your brake rotors polished or replaced as needed, as well as replacing the brake pads. It also helps to have your brakes inspected by a professional every few months, perhaps on the same timeline you follow for your vehicle's oil changes.

Who Might Be at Fault for a Rear-End Accident Caused by Brake Failure?

If your brakes cause your rear-end accident, that doesn't automatically mean you're off the hook. There are two major challenges to placing blame for your collision on faulty brakes.

Was the Brake Failure Caused by Negligent or Improper Maintenance?

The first challenge is that negligent or improper maintenance of a vehicle is behind many instances of faulty brakes, and the duty to properly maintain a vehicle sits squarely on the shoulders of the vehicle owner. This includes the duty to get the brakes checked regularly and replacing them as dictated by driving conditions and manufacturer's recommendations. In other words, if bad brakes caused your rear-end accident and evidence points to vehicle maintenance issues, then you're probably at fault for the rear-end collision.

You Must Prove that Your Brakes Were Faulty

The second challenge is that it can often be difficult to prove there was a problem with your brakes. Unless the problem with your brake system is obvious and easily identified by a mechanic, it might be impossible to know with 100% certainty what caused your brake failure. This is why it's so important to get your brakes inspected as soon as you can after the accident.

Who is At Fault if You Prove Your Brakes Were Faulty?

Assuming you properly maintained your vehicle and can find strong evidence of faulty brakes, one potential at-fault party is the manufacturer of your brakes and/or your vehicle. It's possible that a manufacturing or design defect with your brakes led to your accident.

Another potential at-fault party is the mechanic who worked on your vehicle. Maybe they damaged your brake lines while working on another part of the car. Or perhaps they made a mistake when replacing some component of your braking system. Either way, the mechanic and/or the mechanic's employer might be at least partially liable for your rear-end accident.

Insurance Claims After a Rear-End Accident Caused by Brake Failure

How the car insurance claim process works depends on who's filing the claim and whether the policyholder is in a traditional (fault-based) or no-fault state. If the driver who got rear-ended (lead driver) is filing the claim in a traditional car insurance state, the car insurance policy of the person who hit them (assuming the tailing driver is at fault) will typically pay for the lead driver's accident-related losses, up to liability policy limits.

In a no-fault car insurance state, drivers involved in the accident will file a claim with their respective car insurance companies (when it comes to injuries, lost income, and certain out of pocket losses). However, since property damage isn't usually part of no-fault, the insurance company of the at-fault tailing driver will normally be on the legal hook for vehicle damage sustained by the lead driver.

When the tailing driver claims the accident was the result of faulty brakes, the car insurance claim process may take longer and be more involved than it might be in a conventional car insurance claim, since the insurance company's investigation of the car accident will be more complex.

Depending on the insurance company, the tailing driver may have a mechanic examine the brakes and prepare a report that gets forwarded to the car insurance company. Another possibility is that the car insurance company sends an adjuster to inspect the vehicle.

If the car insurance company concludes that faulty brakes caused the accident, what may happen is that they pay the claim of the lead driver. Then they go after the responsible party (like the mechanic, vehicle manufacturer, or brake manufacturer) for reimbursement.

If the car insurance company concludes the accident wasn't caused by a brake failure, the tailing driver can either accept the conclusion or provide additional evidence to try and convince the insurance company otherwise. This might require hiring a different mechanic to inspect the brakes or taking additional steps to dispute fault. In situations where there's a lot of money at stake, any disagreements about the cause of the accident may require the services of a car accident lawyer.

Can I File a Lawsuit Over Brake Failure?

As the tailing driver, you're unlikely to choose to file a lawsuit because of a dispute over whether you or your brakes caused the accident. This is because your car insurance company's duty to defend (provide you with a legal defense if you get sued) or payout a claim exists as long as there's insurance coverage. And as long as you meet the conditions of coverage and an exclusion doesn't apply, your car insurance coverage should protect you whether you or someone else was negligent concerning your accident.

However, things are different from the car insurance company's perspective, Specifically, the true cause of the accident can make a difference in whether or not your car insurance company can get reimbursed for any money it pays out on your behalf.

For example, let's say you rear-end someone else, resulting in $10,000 in damages. The lead driver files a claim with your car insurance company and they pay out $10,000 to the lead driver. If you can successfully prove that your brakes were faulty and someone else is responsible for your bad brakes, your car insurance company can use subrogation to get the $10,000 back from the party responsible for your bad brakes, such as the mechanic or car manufacturer. If they do this, you will have to cooperate with your insurance company during this process.

What if Your Car Insurance Company Won't Pay For Accident Damages?

There's also the rare situation where your car insurance company won't pay for damages stemming from the accident (for reasons that may not relate to the faulty brakes) and therefore, you pay for the lead driver's damages yourself. If this happens, you could try to recover the money you paid out by suing your car insurance company for breach of contract when it refused to cover the claim. You could also try to sue the party responsible for your faulty brakes, such as the manufacturer, or the mechanic who installed them.

Can the Lead Driver File a Lawsuit?

If you were the lead driver, you could file a lawsuit in several different scenarios. One scenario involves a bad faith insurance lawsuit because either your car insurance company or the car insurance company of the other driver refuses to settle your legitimate claim.

Another scenario that might exist includes the tailing driver claiming you were at least partially at fault for causing the accident. For instance, they might say you cut them off and this fact—along with the faulty brakes—led to the accident.

Finally, there's a scenario where your damages exceed anything the tailing driver can pay (with or without the help of car insurance coverage). In this case, you might also sue whoever was responsible for the faulty brakes, like the manufacturer of the tailing driver's vehicle.

Statute of Limitations

Whoever you are and whoever you're suing, you'll need to bring your lawsuit on time to avoid your case getting thrown out due to the statute of limitations deadline having passed.

What Damages Can I Get From a Car Accident Lawsuit?

Any potential lawsuit stemming from a car accident involving faulty brakes will include damages that are available in most other car accident litigation, such as compensation for:

If you do file a lawsuit, remember that most cases settle long before they ever get to court.

What Will Happen to My Insurance If I'm Found At Fault Despite the Brake Failure?

What will happen depends on your driving history and the terms of your car insurance policy. For example, if you have accident forgiveness, then your insurance coverage and your premiums will likely stay the same.

But if you have a history of accidents and/or traffic violations, you could see a higher-than-usual premium increase or have to find a new car insurance policy.

Finding Help After a Rear-End Collision

If you get into a rear-end collision caused by faulty brakes, you could be facing a more convoluted car insurance claim process, and the prospect of a lawsuit might loom large. It may be worth it to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how a car accident lawyer can help you. If you're ready to reach out for help now, you can use the features right on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer in your area.

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