Rear-End Car Accidents: Fault and Settlement Value

Most rear-end car accident injury claims settle, but while fault might be obvious, claim value isn't always clear.

If your car accident injury claim comes as a result of a rear-end collision, here's what to know right off the bat:

  • Rear-end accidents have accounted for around 30 percent of all traffic accidents in recent years, with almost 2.2 million of these kinds of crashes occurring in 2019 alone, according to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Most car accident claims are settled out of court, and injury claims stemming from rear-end car accidents are no exception.
  • While fault is usually fairly clear after a rear-end car accident, figuring out how much your claim might be worth can be tricky if your injuries are primarily of the soft tissue variety.

Settlement Is Likely After a Rear-End Car Accident

Settlement is by far the most common outcome in rear-end car accident cases. One reason for this is that liability is usually not a big issue. Whether the collision occurred at a stoplight, in traffic, or in a parking lot, the tailing driver is almost always going to be at fault for a rear-end collision. Exceptions are possible, of course. If the leading driver's brake lights weren't functioning properly at the time of the crash, for example, a once-clear liability picture can become cloudy. Learn more about proving fault for a car accident.

Most or all of the back-and-forth contentiousness in these kinds of cases will be over the scope and severity of your car accident injuries, especially if they're strictly of the soft tissue variety (more on this later).

How Is Injury Claim Value Determined In a Rear-End Accident Case?

As with any car accident case, rear-end accident claim value is based on the amount of damages the injured person has sustained. "Damages" is another way of saying "losses," monetary and otherwise.

There is no strict formula when it comes to figuring out how much a settlement is worth in a rear-end car accident case. But in practice, insurance companies calculate the value of car accident settlements based on two main factors.

Economic Damages

First, the dollar value of all economic damages is determined—including medical bills, lost income, rehabilitative care costs, and other definitive financial losses incurred by the victim as a result of the accident.

Non-Economic Damages

Next, the amount of non-economic damages is assessed (this category of damages includes pain and suffering), usually by multiplying the total cost of medical treatment by a multiplier of between 1.5 and 5; perhaps using a multiplier of 2 for minor injuries, and a multiplier closer to 5 (and maybe even higher) for more serious injuries and permanent disability.

It's important to note here that even where your medical bills are significant, if your medical treatment mostly relates to soft tissue injuries, the insurance company might still use a low multiplier when assessing your non-economic damages. Fair or not, since soft tissue injuries (including "whiplash"-like injuries) don't usually show up on a diagnostic test, they're not always given appropriate weight by insurance adjusters.

Example of Calculating Non-Economic Damages

Here's an example of how the formula might work when it comes to figuring out non-economic damages. Let's say Kathleen was rear-ended at a stoplight. Her medical bills amounted to $5,000. To calculate non-economic damages, an insurance adjuster might use a multiplier of 3, since Kathleen's injuries were moderate. So, the adjuster might set the value of Kathleen's non-economic damages at $15,000 ($5,000 x 3). Kathleen also had $3,500 in lost income, putting the overall value of her claim at $23,500 ($5,000 + $15,000 + $3,500).

Mediation May Be Mandatory

If your car accident case has reached the lawsuit stage, keep in mind that most courts now require the parties to attend mediation early on, to try to get the case settled.

Mediation can be done with either a private mediator or a judge (one who has not been assigned to the case). The mediator meets with all sides in the beginning, then meets separately with the plaintiff and the defendant to try to get the parties' settlement numbers closer together.

Learn more about mediation of car accident cases.

Once You Settle, You Can't Change Your Mind

It's important not to agree to a car accident settlement until you have either:

  • finished your medical treatment, or
  • are very close to completing treatment.

You want to be very close to your medical end result (also called "MMI" or "maximum medical improvement") before making a demand. This is because, until you have finished your treatment and know whether you have fully recovered or not, you and your lawyer cannot determine what your damages are.

Regardless of how simple or how drawn-out the process is, once you accept the other side's settlement offer, the case is over. In almost every state, this decision to settle is final. If you change your mind about settlement five minutes after your lawyer tells the defense attorney that you accepted the offer, you have almost zero chance of getting the court to reverse the settlement (especially if the agreement has already been signed). Bottom line: Don't tell your lawyer that you want to accept a settlement until you're absolutely certain that you're comfortable walking away with the amount of money being offered.

Next Steps

Rear-end car accident claims aren't always as straightforward as they might seem. If your injuries are significant or the other side isn't coming to the table with a fair settlement offer, having a skilled legal professional on your side can be crucial. Learn more about when you need a lawyer's help with a car accident claim.

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