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Rear-End Collisions: Who Is Liable?


In a car accident, there are often many factors at play. It’s not always easy to determine fault, even in a rear-end crash involving only two drivers. These types of rear-end collisions happen frequently, but they aren’t necessarily straightforward. While conventional wisdom may tell you the motorist in the back is to blame – and while insurance companies will usually agree – that’s actually not always the case.

So who is liable in a rear-end collision?

Determining Fault
Typically, the blame for a car accident will fall on the driver who was most capable of preventing the crash. For the majority of rear-end collisions, this responsibility lies with the driver in the back, rather than the one in front. That’s because they have the advantage in terms of sight and being able to stop an accident before it occurs. Even if the driver in front needs to stop quickly, it’s most often up to the driver in back to stop a crash.

However, there are cases wherein this might not be true. If the driver in front puts their car in reverse, suddenly stops to make a turn and then fails to follow through, or fails to follow proper procedures when their car is in disrepair (i.e., if they get a flat tire or their brake lights are non-functional), they’ll likely be held responsible. In addition, if the front driver makes an erratic move or weather conditions led to an unpreventable accident, the responsibility may be shared between the two drivers.

Proving Negligence
To determine who’s really at fault for any accident, one must prove the driver was negligent in their duties to exercise care when operating their vehicle. A breach in these duties could include failing to maintain a reasonable driving distance or speed, to stop or yield, to use a turn signal, or to pay attention to road hazards. This can also include texting while driving or other distracted driving behaviors. Approximately 31% of car crash fatalities can be attributed to speeding, while 16% are caused by distraction and 11% are due to weather. Unfortunately, all three of these conditions can easily result in a rear-end collision. In many states, drivers can share liability for an accident under comparative negligence laws (essentially, percentages of legal blame to be shared between drivers). However, in “pure contributory negligence” states such as Virginia, a driver cannot sue for damages if they are even partly responsible for the crash.

Legal Consultation
While the blame for rear-end collisions frequently falls on the driver in the back, some cases are not so cut-and-dried. If you engage in behaviors like texting while driving or aggressive driving maneuvers, you’ll likely be found liable. But not all rear-end collisions can be traced back to speeding or texting while driving; sometimes, there are several factors at play. It’s vital to consult with a lawyer following an accident to ensure you aren’t blamed when other conditions may have contributed to the crash.

If you find yourself involved in a rear-end collision, your traffic lawyers can help defend your rights – whether you feel you’re legally at fault or not. For more information on this subject, please contact our team of attorneys today.

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