Rear-end collisions are the most prevalent type of road crash. Per the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research, these accidents account for 29% of all auto accidents in the U.S. A rear-end collision is precisely what the name suggests. The vehicle in front is struck from behind by the rear motorist. Determining liability in rear-end crashes isn’t always a straightforward process. Whereas most people automatically assume that the rear motorist is at fault, this isn’t always a simple open-and-shut case. Various exceptions apply, and that is why it’s critical for the police, lawyers, and judges to examine a rear-end accident carefully before determining liability.

Who Is to Blame in Rear-End Accidents?

In many rear-end collisions, the rear motorist is to blame for the crash. However, these drivers aren’t always liable. Another vehicle or the lead motorist may be the reason why the accident took place.

Determining liability in a rear-end accident is critical since that establishes who is responsible for paying damages. Liability could be proven by determining if a motorist was careless and what degree of the crash was caused by their carelessness.

Actions that lead to a driver being considered negligent include:

  • Failure to properly maintain the car, which leads to bad brakes and faulty tires

  • Distracted driving, for instance, texting or receiving a call while driving or driving with earphones/headphones on

  • Tailgating (following so closely)

  • Speeding or driving so fast for road conditions

Injured victims can recover damages for their loss and injuries by bringing an injury lawsuit. Passengers and drivers hurt in rear-end crashes can seek to recover compensatory damages, including:

  • Lost wages

  • Medical bills

  • Loss of companionship for a domestic partner or spouse

  • Lost earnings

  • Costs for car repair

  • Pain and suffering

  • Survivor damages in case of a wrongful death

  • Out-of-pocket expenses

Liability in Rear-End Collisions Isn’t Automatic

California State doesn’t impose automatic fault on the motorist who rear-ends another car in an accident. Whereas the rear motorist is frequently to blame for distracted driving or tailgating, there are cases where the lead (front-end) motorist is guilty of causing the crash. Apart from the rear or front diver, rear-end collisions could also be blamed on a pedestrian/pedestrians, another vehicle, or poor road conditions.

Liability in car crashes is established by negligence. Per negligence statutes, the negligent individual is responsible for any damage and injuries caused to the other. In rear-end collisions, the negligent motorist is held responsible for any hurt passengers and drivers.

To recover compensation if you’re hurt in a rear-end collision, you generally have to prove the driver’s negligence. And to prove negligence, you have to demonstrate these elements:

  • The driver owed you the duty of care

  • They breached the duty by being negligent

  • Their breach was the primary cause of the accident

  • You suffered damages as a result of the accident

When operating a vehicle, the basic standards of care include:

  • Using reasonable care whenever driving

  • Watching out for pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles

  • Controlling the movement and speed of the car

Failure to exercise reasonable care while driving an auto amounts to negligence.

When the Lead Motorist Is Liable

Many rear-end collisions occur due to the rear motorist not leaving sufficient space to stop securely. However, the front driver could also be to blame for these accidents. If the front driver isn’t exercising reasonable care while driving, they may be responsible for any resulting damages. For instance, making an unsafe lane change may cause a lead driver to be liable for a rear-end collision. If an accident occurs, at least in part, because the lead driver changed lanes directly in the path of an oncoming car, they may be held legally responsible for the accident. Whereas it’s the rear driver who hit the front vehicle, it’s the front motorist who created the underlying safety hazard. Other negligent actions that may cause the lead driver to be liable include:

  • Driving with broken/non-functional brake lights or taillights

  • Braking suddenly

  • Road rage

  • Reversing into an auto

  • Drunk driving

  • Deliberately trying to be hit to receive auto insurance benefits fraudulently

  • Pulling out in front of another vehicle

Liability Where the Lead Motorist Unexpectedly Pulls Out In Front of another Vehicle and Is Hit

Determining liability when a motorist unexpectedly pulls out in front of another auto and is hit could be challenging. Both the motorist who suddenly pulls out and the one who does not stop on time could be to blame for the collision based on the precise facts surrounding the crash, including:

  • Road conditions

  • Vehicle speed

  • Lane markings

  • Traffic signals

  • Failure to signal when changing lanes and turning

If the driver behind isn’t driving carefully, including speeding, they may be responsible for the collision. If the motorist in front pulls into moving traffic across multiple lanes without signaling or crosses a solid yellow line, they could be held accountable for the collision.

Right-of-Way, U-Turns, and Left Turns

Another reason why rear-end crashes occur could be a motorist making an unlawful U-turn or making a left turn in front of oncoming traffic. Under the state’s right-of-way statutes, the driver who intends to make a U-turn or turn left has to give way to all the cars oncoming from the opposite direction until they can safely make the turn.

A motorist trying to turn left must ensure no oncoming cars are near enough that they can cause a hazard before they can cross traffic, and this includes making a U-turn. If a motorist turns left without yielding the right-of-way to oncoming vehicles and is struck, they may be deemed negligent. Therefore, they could be held accountable for the resulting injuries and damages.

Who to Blame if the Lead Driver Suddenly Brakes

Another prevalent reason for rear-end collisions involves the front driver braking unexpectedly, causing the motorist behind them to hit their vehicle. The rear motorist could blame the driver in front for braking unexpectedly, but the rear motorist could still be blamed for the crash.

The California Vehicle Code requires motorists to leave sufficient room that allows the vehicles ahead to brake or stop if need be. Per VC 21703, a driver is prohibited from following another auto too closely than is prudent and reasonable. The law doesn’t specify what following distance is safe for vehicles. It only mentions that a safe distance is based on the speed of the vehicle in front, road conditions, and traffic flow at that particular time. For instance, a motorist may have to adjust their following distance depending on:

  • Soft brakes

  • Loose gravel

  • Step-and-go traffic

  • Heavy vehicle weight

  • Wet-road conditions

  • Nighttime driving

Apart from following too closely, distracted drivers can also cause rear-end accidents. The rear motorist may claim that the driver in front unexpectedly braked while it was them who weren’t paying the needed attention to their driving and the roadway at that time. If a rear driver pays attention to their surroundings, they will realize it if the auto in front stops or slows down.

Sudden Braking and Distracted Driving

Cell phones are the most prevalent cause of distracted car driving. But, essentially, distracted driving could be caused by anything that draws the motorist’s attention from their surrounding, such as:

  • Mapping directions

  • Changing radio frequency

  • Shaving or applying makeup

  • Looking at maps

  • Eating when driving

  • Watching videos

  • Reading a newspaper

  • Adjusting the steering wheel or seat

  • Looking through the window

If the motorist behind wasn’t maintaining a safe following distance or was distracted/speeding, they may be deemed negligent. But the lead driver could’ve been operating their car negligently and partly or entirely caused the crash. A lead motorist may be responsible for causing a rear-end accident where they:

  • Recklessly slammed on the brakes due to road rage

  • Deliberately slammed on the brakes in an attempt to be hit and defraud their insurance provider

  • Were driving with broken brake lights

Liability in Chain Reaction Rear-End Collisions

A rear-end collision may involve numerous vehicles. This is called a chain reaction accident. Essentially, a chain reaction rear-end accident happens when multiple vehicles rear-end each other in a sequence of accidents caused mainly by the impact of the initial crash. Here is a typical scenario of a chain reaction rear-end collision:

Driver w --> driver x --> driver y -->driver z

Driver 2 hits the car before them (driver 1). And since driver 3 was following motorist 2 and couldn’t stop on time, they also rear-end driver 2. The same thing happens behind motorist 3, with driver 4 being incapable of stopping on time to avoid hitting drive 3. Another issue is the impact of the crash between driver 2 and 1 could push driver 1’s car forward into the next auto in line, and the sequence continues, resulting in another rear-end chain reaction.

Since chain reaction rear-end accidents involve several different motorists that were each negligent (at least to a given percentage), proving liability may be complex. Each of the drivers involved might have conflicting accounts of what transpired and who is liable. If you bring a personal injury suit against another driver after a rear-end accident involving multiple cars, you’ll have to prove which motorist was negligent. Proving negligence is all about figuring out which motorist’s carelessness led to the crash—or if two or more drivers were careless, determining each motorist’s share of fault.

But what happens where your vehicle was pushed into the one before you after being struck from behind? Let’s refer to the above example where driver 1 is rear-ended and pushed into the vehicle before them. In this case, driver 1 will have to determine the series of events that resulted in driver 2 hitting them.

Was it driver 3 who rear-ended driver 2, pushing driver 2 into driver 1? If that is what happened, driver 3 would be held accountable for driving negligently or not leaving sufficient following distance to stop on time. Therefore, they will have to compensate drivers 2 and 1 for any damage and injuries resulting from the crash.

Also, note that the driver before driver 1 could blame them for the crash if they had not left a safe following distance between them. As mentioned above, the law dictates that a driver must always leave sufficient space between them and the other auto, even when the vehicles aren’t moving. However, in this case, the facts of the case will establish liability. For instance, driver 1 might not be liable if driver 2 was speeding. The impact of a high-speed accident could push a vehicle a significant distance. Consequently, the fact that driver 1 left enough following distance between them and the vehicle before them may not matter.

What if motorist 2 hit driver 1 from behind, then driver 3, incapable of stopping in time, hit driver 2? In that case, driver 1 would feel a much higher force. Therefore, driver 3 and driver 2 would have to compensate driver 1 for any injuries and damage resulting from the crash. Driver 1 could bring a personal injury lawsuit or claim against the two drivers and allow them to discuss the issue between themselves.

The scenario becomes even more intricate when driver 4 comes into the picture. Driver 2 could hit driver 1 from behind, 3 could hit 2, and 4 could strike 3. Alternatively, driver 4 could cause a chain reaction rear-end accident on their own by striking driver 3 from behind, pushing 3 into 2 and 2 into 1.

Whichever way a rear-end chain reaction crash plays out, several sources can help establish the order of impacts and what driver was negligent. These include:

  • Police reports compiled in connection with the collision. The report could include the reporting officer’s findings on whether any motorist violated any traffic rule.

  • Eyewitness accounts (these includes a statement from the drivers, passengers of every vehicle, and passers-by)

  • Proof gathered at the accident scene, including vehicle debris and skid marks.

  • Vehicle damage

In other cases, the fault for the collision could involve none of the drivers. The crash could be partly or entirely caused by:

  • Pedestrian or cyclist

  • A dog that’s off the leash running out into the street

  • Dangerous road conditions

  • Auto brake manufacturer

  • Another reckless motorist

Comparative Negligence in Rear-End Collisions

In most rare-end car accidents, two or more parties are liable. It is possible both the rear and front motorists share a given percentage of the guilt. Also, as we saw earlier, other parties, apart from the drivers involved, may be to blame for the accident, including:

  • The vehicle brake manufacturer,

  • The authority in charge of road maintenance (in case road conditions contributed to the crash)

  • The owner of the dog (if an off-leash dog led to the collision)

  • Another driver

  • Pedestrian or cyclist

In California, any person who plays a role in causing a crash can be responsible for the injuries and damage incurred. Liability is divided among any party that shares the fault. The more you contributed to the collision, the more fault you will share. The percentage of liability a person shares is determined by the jury presiding over the personal injury lawsuit.

The good news is that you can still claim compensation even if you are partly responsible for the rear-end collision. However, your compensation amount will be lowered to the percentage you share liability, and you’ll be responsible for some of the damages incurred by the other involved parties.

For example, let’s say another driver rear-ends you at an intersection, and you both suffer damages worth fifty thousand dollars. The jury determines that you’re 30% to blame for the collision since you were on a phone call while driving and not being observant of the lights. Here, the most you will receive from the other motorist is thirty-five thousand dollars (fifty thousand dollars reduced by 30%). You’ll also be responsible for up to 30% or fifteen thousand dollars of the other motorist’s damages.

Always talk with your lawyer if you’re partly liable for an auto accident. The other involved parties will try shifting as much of the fault to you as possible. Your lawyer would know from what angle to approach the case and stop this from happening. They are also capable of detecting other tactics made in an attempt to harm your compensation recovery.

Find a Car Accident Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

As we have seen, determining liability in rear-end collisions is much more complicated than it is with other types of accidents. The involved parties may have contradicting statements of what transpired and who is to blame. Therefore, these kinds of incidents require comprehensive investigation by a skilled Los Angeles car accident lawyer. If you have been injured in a rear-end accident, we at The LA Personal Injury Law Firm will protect your legal rights and help you gather all the proof you require to prove liability. Our personal injury lawyers are strong and aggressive advocates for injured victims; thus, they’ll do everything legally possible to ensure you receive just compensation. The fact is, you deserve compensation even if you’re partly to blame for the collision. Please call us at 310-935-0089 for a free, comprehensive case evaluation. Based in Los Angeles, we serve personal injury victims in Los Angeles County and the surrounding areas.