In a Rear-End Accident: Fault-Deciding Factors

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It isn't always easy to sort out who is at fault for a car accident. But in a few common car crash scenarios, fault is almost always determined by the circumstances of the accident. One of these scenarios is a rear-end collision, where the tailing driver will almost certainly be deemed at fault for causing the crash. This rule is so well-established that in injury claims involving rear-end collisions, insurance companies rarely even bother to argue about liability, and instead negotiations focus on damages resulting from the crash (physical injuries, vehicle damage, etc.). This article takes a closer look at rear-end car accidents.

The 'Rules of the Road'

If someone hits you from behind, it is virtually always his or her fault, ­regardless of the reason you stopped. A basic rule of the road requires that you be able to stop safely if a vehicle stops ahead of you. So, as a tailing driver, if you ­cannot stop in time and wind up rear-ending the vehicle in front of you, you are not driving as safely as you need to be under the circumstances. 

Vehicle Damage Can Tell the Tale

The other surefire part of a rear-end accident claim is that damage to the vehicles involved usually proves how the accident hap­pened. If the other car’s front end and your car’s rear end are both damaged, there’s no doubt that you were struck from the rear.

Rear-End Accidents Involving Multiple Vehicles

In some situations, both you and the car ­behind you will be stopped when a third car runs into the car behind you and pushes it into the rear of your car. In that sort of "chain reaction" crash, it is the driver of the third car who is at fault and against whose liability insurance you would file a claim.

However, even if you have been rear-ended, in a few circumstances your own carelessness may reduce your compensation under the rule of comparative negligence. A common example is when one or both brake or tail lights were out, especially if the accident happened at night. Another ­example is when a car had mechanical problems but the driver failed to move it fully to the side of the road. So, if your insurance carrier and the other driver's insurer agree that you were 25% at fault for causing the rear-end accident (even though you were hit from behind), under comparative negligence rules, any settlement award you receive would only compensate you for 75% of your damages.  

Getting More Information and Legal Help

To learn more about how to handle every step in your car accident claim, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And even though liability is rarely at issue in a rear-end accident case, you may want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.  

Updated by: , J.D.

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