How Fault Is Determined in a Rear-End Collision

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Rear-end car accidents are an all-too-common occurrence. At one point or another, most drivers have been at least tapped by a person behind them; and in the era of cell phones, text messaging, iPods and “road rage,” many drivers have had the distinct displeasure of dealing with a serious rear-end collision. While there are some exceptions and variations based on differences in state law, as a general proposition, the driver of the rear-ending car is normally at fault for rear-end collisions. This means that the driver of the rear-ending car will likely be liable for the damage caused in the collision.

The No-Fault State Exception

The first, and perhaps most important, exception to the general rule of rear-end accidents is the no-fault state exception. There are 12 no-fault states across the country. In a no-fault state drivers are required by law to carry their own auto insurance. The intent is that drivers will collect compensation for their injuries from their own insurance company rather than clogging up the courts with lawsuits. In some no-fault states—for example, Michigan—injured drivers may still sue an at-fault driver for pain and suffering but only if the injuries sustained reach a certain threshold. If a rear-end collision occurs in a no-fault state, an apportionment of fault is irrelevant unless the injuries sustained are permanent and severe.

The Multi-Car Collision Rule

Another exception to the general rule of rear-end collisions is the multi-car accident rule. Normally, rear-end collisions occur because the rear vehicle is following the lead car too closely. However, in multi-car accidents, the rear vehicle is often pushed into the lead vehicle by a third car. An example of this type of scenario is when two cars are stopped at a red light and a third car, approaching the light, fails to stop. The third car rear-ends the second car and the second car is pushed into the rear of the first car. Obviously, the second car was doing nothing wrong—it was stopped at a red light. So with regard to the damages to the first car, the general rule does not apply; in fact, the car that failed to stop at the light is at fault for all of the damages.

Determination of Fault - Fault States vs. No-Fault States

A determination of fault, in any type of accident, is often very important to an injured party. In what are known as fault states, an injured party will sue the driver they believe is at fault for the accident. Either the driver or the driver’s insurance company could be responsible for damages to the injured party’s car, as well as medical expenses and monetary pain and suffering damages. In rear-end situations, a lawsuit may not even be necessary since it is presumed that the rear-ending driver is at fault. An injured party can attempt to deal directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company in an attempt to receive compensation for their injuries.

Unless a rear-end accident occurs in one of the twelve no-fault states, the presumption in the vast majority of rear-end collisions is that the rear-ending driver is at fault for the accident. Unless the rear-ending driver can prove that there were extenuating circumstances—such as being pushed by another car—it is likely that the rear-ending driver will be liable for the injured party’s injuries. As always, it is prudent to contact a local attorney when faced with the prospect of bringing or defending a lawsuit.