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The damage caused by rear-end accidents ranges from minor “fender-bender” nicks in a car’s paint to catastrophic. If you’ve recently been involved in a rear-ended car accident, don’t make any assumptions about whether the lead or tailing driver was at-fault for the crash. Either, both, or neither could be considered at fault by a judge or jury depending on the situation. In other words, you may be entitled to compensation regardless of your car’s placement in the crash.

Here's an overview of these types of accidents, how fault is usually assessed, and how that can impact a lawsuit.

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What Is A Rear-End Collision? Examples And Fault

A rear-end collision is any auto accident in which one vehicle hits another from behind. Common causes of rear-end collisions include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Following a lead vehicle too closely (tailgating)
  • Aggressive driving
  • Road rage
  • Drowsy driving
  • Sudden stop made by a lead vehicle
  • Inability to brake effectively due to slippery conditions

In scenarios involving more than two vehicles, a chain reaction rear-ended car accident can cause many vehicles to rear-end each other in a row. Depending on the force of impact and whether the lead vehicle’s driver has their foot on the brake at the time of the crash, the lead vehicle may be pushed into oncoming traffic and may be struck again by other vehicles.

Why Is The Trailing Driver Usually At Fault?

Most of the time, the tailing driver is considered to be partially or totally at fault for a rear-end car accident. This is because state laws require motorists to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle traveling in front of them. In the event that the lead vehicle comes to a sudden stop, it’s expected that the tail vehicle will have enough space to safely stop behind them, avoiding impact.

However, there are times when the lead driver may be at fault, when both parties may be at fault, or where neither party is at fault. For example, if a powerline suddenly drops into the road and the lead vehicle stops suddenly but then the power line shifts so that the tailing driver must accelerate to avoid being struck by the line, neither driver may be at fault. Instead, the power company that installed the unstable line may potentially be liable for the harm caused to both parties involved in the rear-ended car accident.

Rear-End Collisions When The Lead Driver May Be At Fault

Common scenarios where a lead driver may be deemed at fault for a rear-end collision include:

  • Reverse Rear-End Crash Scenarios: The lead driver throws the vehicle into reverse and hits the tailing car.
  • Negligent Maintenance Or Defective Parts Scenarios: The lead vehicle’s tail lights are out and cannot signal to the tailing vehicle that the lead vehicle is coming to a stop.
  • Brake Check Scenarios: The lead motorist suddenly slams on their brakes without warning or justification. This situation often occurs in road rage accidents.

Rear-Ended Car Accident Settlement Considerations

Effective approaches to insurance claims in the wake of a rear-ended collision depend on the circumstances of the accident and the kinds of insurance coverage that everyone involved either has or doesn’t have.

For example, most injury victims who aren’t at fault for their harm submit a claim to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. But in a no-fault state, an injured driver needs to submit a claim to their own insurance provider. If you’ve been injured as a result of your crash, you may even be advised to file a collision claim where your own insurer will front you compensation for your costs with the expectation that they’ll recoup their losses once the at-fault party’s provider pays out your claim.

Regardless of what your insurance situation may be, you’ll want to allow an attorney to speak with insurance providers on your behalf. This will improve the chances that any settlement to which you are entitled is fairly valued and paid without undue delay.

Common Rear-Ended Car Accident Injuries

Even relatively minor rear-end collisions tend to result in injuries. The force of one vehicle slamming into the back of another usually causes the heads of each motorist and passenger involved to whip back and forth on top of necks that are not braced for impact. As a result, rear-end car accident victims tend to suffer from whiplash. This soft-tissue injury may not manifest symptoms for hours or days after an accident occurs. If your neck, shoulders, jaw, or back start to ache in the wake of a rear-end collision, seek medical attention as you may be experiencing delayed whiplash symptoms.

Other common rear-end crash injuries include:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury: The force of impact may cause the brain to slam into the skull once or multiple times.
  • Miscarriage: If a pregnant person’s abdomen hits the steering wheel or they sustain other serious injuries as a result of a crash, their pregnancy may end involuntarily.
  • PTSD: The trauma associated with sudden impact can lead to anxiety as accident victims struggle to fully process the events surrounding their accident.

Filing A Lawsuit For Rear-End Collision Injuries

If you’re not at fault or are only partially at fault for the circumstances that led to your crash, you’re empowered to sue an at-fault driver for damages, provided that your case meets these general criteria:

  • The at-fault driver owed you a legal obligation known as a “duty of care” under the law.
  • That duty was breached when the at-fault party engaged in negligent, reckless, or intentionally harmful conduct (like texting while driving).
  • Your injuries occurred as a direct result of that conduct, or any pre-existing injuries were worsened by the accident.

If your lawsuit is successful, you may be awarded economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages, which are quantifiable financial losses, include compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and other specific expenses incurred as a result of your injuries. Non-economic damages – sometimes referred to as “general” damages – are not easily quantifiable. The most well-known general damage category is “pain and suffering.”

Need Help Getting Compensation For Your Rear-Ended Car Accident?

It's not always clear who's at fault for a rear-end accident. For example, a driver may be reluctant to admit they were on the phone at the time of the crash. Whatever your circumstances, an attorney can help you get the facts and organize your case. Find out how with a free legal review today.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.