Who Is at Fault in a Rear-end Accident?

Who Is at Fault in a Rear-end Accident?

In many rear-end car accidents, the driver of the vehicle that strikes another from behind is at fault. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes another person, business, or entity deserves at least some or all of the blame. Every rear-end crash differs, and multiple parties can face liability depending on the circumstances. 

Here’s an overview of why fault matters in a rear-end accident, how lawyers and insurance companies determine it, and the reasons to hire an experienced car accident attorney immediately to handle your rear-end crash case. 

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Why Does Fault Matter in a Rear-End Collision?

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Rear-end collisions are the most common type of accident in the U.S. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they make up 29 percent of all crashes.

Many people think of rear-end collisions as minor accidents  fender benders that, perhaps, damage a bumper or cause mild aches and pains. But although that’s true of some rear-end crashes, many inflict significant damage and severe, even fatal, injuries. 

In most states, victims of rear-end accidents have the legal right to claim compensation from the party or parties at fault for their injuries. In some states, injured victims can get their first and last dollar of compensation from an at-fault party. In others, they can only pursue an at-fault party for payment after receiving the maximum available compensation from their no-fault insurance policy.

Regardless of which rules apply in your state, the party or parties at fault for a rear-end crash almost always face potential legal liability for a crash victim’s losses.

What Does Fault Mean?

In everyday speech, we use the word fault to refer to responsibility for an undesired outcome. That’s generally how lawyers and insurance companies use it, too, but only when the facts of a situation meet specific criteria.

Someone is legally at-fault for an accident or incident only if:

  • They had a recognized duty not to put others in harm’s way; 
  • Their unreasonably dangerous decisions, actions, or failures to act violated that duty and caused a harmful accident or incident; and
  • As a result, someone else suffered physical, emotional, or financial injuries. 

So, in the context of rear-end accidents, a person is at-fault if they owed others a duty not to act in a way or make a decision that risked causing a crash, they breached that obligation in a way that caused a collision, and someone else got hurt. By law, a person who meets those criteria will owe monetary damages (see below) to the rear-end accident’s injured victims. 

What Parties Bear Fault for a Rear-End Accident?

Numerous individuals, businesses, or entities could be at fault for a rear-end accident. In some crashes, the fault falls on just one party. But in others, several parties might share the blame. Here are some potential culprits for rear-end collisions

The Driver of the Trailing Vehicle

The party most commonly at fault for a rear-end accident is the driver of the trailing vehicle. All drivers have a fundamental duty to avoid hitting cars in front of them. In many rear-end crashes, the trailing driver engages in dangerous conduct behind the wheel or fails to take reasonable precautions to avoid a collision.

Trailing drivers can cause rear-end accidents by, for example: 

  • Speeding, leaving insufficient time to avoid a crash.
  • Tailgating (or following too close), leaving insufficient distance to stop for a vehicle ahead; 
  • Driving distracted that leads to ignoring a slowed or stopped vehicle ahead; or
  • Failing to obey traffic signals and signs, running the risk that a vehicle ahead will stop or slow unexpectedly. 

Any investigation of a rear-end accident will examine the decisions and actions of the trailing driver. Evidence a lawyer or insurance investigator might review can include the presence or absence of tire skid marks, cell phone and onboard vehicle computer data, and eyewitness accounts of how the crash happened.  

The Driver of the Leading Vehicle

Sometimes, the driver of the vehicle hit from behind bears the blame for a rear-end collision. Finding fault with the driver of the leading vehicle doesn’t happen as often as pinning responsibility on the trailing driver, but it’s more common than you might think.

The driver of the leading vehicle could cause a rear-end crash by: 

  • Cutting off the trailing vehicle by, for example, swerving on a highway or barging into a neighboring lane in heavy traffic. 
  • Failing to signal before turning in front of another vehicle; 
  • Driving with broken tail lights that fail to alert trailing drivers to braking; 
  • “Brake checking” a trailing driver as supposed punishment for following too close; or
  • Backing into a trailing vehicle.

Drivers of leading vehicles sometimes get overlooked as at-fault parties but experienced lawyers and insurance adjusters know to scrutinize their actions. Eyewitness accounts of a rear-end accident particularly those of the trailing driver often alert investigators to the culpability of the leading driver. 

Another Motorist

In some instances, neither of the drivers involved in a rear-end crash are at fault. Instead, a third-party motorist engages in unsafe conduct, making a collision between the two vehicles inevitable.

For example, an aggressive driver might be legally at fault for weaving in and out of traffic, forcing another driver to slam the brakes and get hit from behind by yet another vehicle. A skilled car accident lawyer can investigate a rear-end accident to identify a third-party motorist at fault.

An Automotive Manufacturer

Sometimes, a vehicle’s mechanical, electronic, or system failure causes a rear-end accident.

For example: 

  • Brake failure that prevents a driver from stopping in time; 
  • A blown tire that causes the leading vehicle to stop suddenly and unexpectedly; 
  • A malfunctioning collision warning system that fails to alert a driver to a hazard ahead or behind; or
  • So-called “self-driving” modes that fail to work as expected. 

State laws hold manufacturers strictly liable when their products fail to function as intended under normal use conditions. Strict liability means manufacturers have automatic liability for a crash, even if they took reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their products. 

A Government Entity or Private Road Owner

Rear-end collisions can also happen when unreasonably dangerous, preventable road conditions increase crash risks. In those cases, you can hold the government entity or private road owner responsible.

For instance:

  • Malfunctioning traffic lights that confuse when traffic should stop and go; 
  • Missing or inadequate signs or lane markings that create hazardous merges or unexpected stops; or
  • Failures to warn motorists of upcoming changes in a road surface or traffic pattern that might affect stopping ability. 

Many victims of rear-end collisions don’t realize they can find fault with an entity or individual responsible for maintaining safe roads. But a skilled lawyer can review the road conditions and assess whether the relevant authorities knew or should have known that a particular location posed a significant, preventable risk of rear-end crashes. 

What Compensation Can You Recover for a Rear-End Accident?

By law, the party at fault for a rear-end accident will usually owe damages to the injured victims. Although not necessarily at fault, other parties could share that liability if they have a legal duty to answer for the at-fault party&;s actions.

For example, an at-fault driver&;s employer can owe compensation if the driver crashes a work vehicle or while performing job duties. And an insurance company can owe compensation under a policy it issued covering the victim&;s losses.

Victims of rear-end accidents seek compensation from at-fault and other liable parties for the physical, emotional, and financial harm they suffered.

In the typical case, victims can claim payment for their:

People hurt in rear-end accidents may also have the right to seek additional punitive damages to punish the at-fault party for engaging in extreme or intentional misc

Fatal Rear-End Accidents

If a rear-end accident inflicts fatal injuries, the deceased victim’s next of kin can seek justice and compensation for their loss through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Depending on the law of the state where the accident occurred, they may have the right to demand payment from an at-fault or another liable party for:

  • Loss of the victim’s income, financial support, or services; 
  • Loss of the victim’s society, including loss of consortium, companionship, or parental guidance; 
  • The victim’s pain and suffering before death; 
  • The emotional distress of a next of kin due to the death; 
  • Medical and other expenses the victim incurred before dying; and
  • Funeral and burial expenses. 

Money cannot replace a life. But it can offer a surviving spouse, child, or parent vital financial support during a difficult time of their lives. Contact a knowledgeable lawyer immediately if you recently lost a loved one in a rear-end accident. 

What Can a Car Accident Lawyer Do for Rear-End Accident Victims?

Lawyers for rear-end accident victims work to secure the maximum compensation available for their clients’ losses. They also serve as trusted allies, advocates, and advisors, guiding clients through the often confusing and stressful times following a rear-end collision. 

The specific services a lawyer might provide to a rear-end crash victim can depend on the demands of a particular case. Every accident differs, as do the needs of its victims.

But when necessary, an experienced car accident lawyer can:

  • Investigate, with the help of forensic and other experts when needed, the cause of the rear-end accident and the identity of each at-fault party. 
  • Analyze the insurance that may cover a victim’s losses.
  • Handle all dealings with insurance companies so their client never needs to answer another call or email from an insurance adjuster asking about the crash. 
  • Answer their client’s questions and advise them on how to make personal, financial, or other decisions that could affect their rights. 
  • Prepare and file lawsuits and insurance claims demanding compensation from at-fault or other liable parties. 
  • Negotiate with insurance adjusters and defense lawyers to explore settling a client’s claims for fair compensation. 
  • Advise their client about whether to accept or reject a settlement offer. 
  • Take the rear-end accident claim to court and present it to a judge and jury at trial. 
  • Ensure the victim receives the money due under an insurance policy, settlement, judgment, or jury award. 

Rear-end collision lawyers make these and similar services as affordable as possible. They offer free consultations for accident victims and their loved ones to learn about their rights and options. And they take cases on a contingent fee basis, meaning that their payment consists of a percentage of the money they secure for their clients. They don’t charge upfront our hourly fees — instead, they only get paid if they get results. 

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer About Your Rear-End Accident Today

Jeff Morris, Car Accident Attorney near Myrtle Beach, SC area
Jeff Morris, Car Accident Lawyer in Myrtle Beach

If you or someone you love recently suffered injuries in a rear-end accident, the law may entitle you to seek compensation from a party at fault or someone else. But that’s easier said than done. It’s not always clear who is at fault for a rear-end collision. And even when it is, forcing them to pay what they owe requires legal knowledge and skill. 
An experienced personal injury law firm in Myrtle Beach can handle your rear-end accident claim and ensure you receive fair treatment and the maximum compensation available. Better yet, you won’t owe the lawyer a dime unless and until you see results. To learn more about your rights after suffering harm in a rear-end accident, contact a skilled car accident injury lawyer today for a free case evaluation.


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