Even the best drivers find themselves involved in an accident. No matter how defensively you might drive, there is little you can do to prevent a rear-end collision. Often attributed to distracted drivers, inattentiveness and excessive speed, rear-end accidents make up about one-third of all collisions.
Thankfully, at least, rear-end collisions are also among the easiest to handle from a liability perspective. Drivers who are hit from behind are rarely held liable for the damage done in the accident. That said, there are some steps to take to help ensure you are not stuck footing the bill for damages and medical expenses.
The Immediate Aftermath
Like with any accident, it’s important to move your vehicles out of the way of traffic to avoid further collisions. Call for an ambulance if anyone is injured. Help those hurt in the crash, if you can. Regardless of how serious the accident is, it’s always a good idea to call the police and report the incident. While you’re waiting for police to arrive, be sure to exchange information with the other driver involved. Collect their full name, phone number and insurance details.
If you have your cell phone handy, snap photos and video of the damage. Take shots of different angles, the street where the incident occurred and of any unusual traffic patterns that might have contributed to the crash. Speak to any passersby who may have witnessed the collision and ask if they’d be willing to go on record about what they saw. If they’re willing to be filmed, take a short video of what they witnessed. Make sure to collect their contact information, too, before they leave the scene.
Work with police to get the accident documented. You’ll want the accident report as evidence of the incident. It’s also smart to have yourself and any passengers examined by a doctor as soon as possible, even if you aren’t feeling injured in the immediate wake of the accident. Some serious injuries can take days, if not weeks, to make themselves evident. By then, you may have lost your window of time to connect the injury to your accident.
The Settlement Process
After handling the scene of the accident, reach out to your insurance company to report the incident. Be ready to share any documents, photos, videos and medical records associated with the wreck. You may be able to claim compensation for the injuries you sustained in the accident, but only if it resulted from the other driver’s negligence.
How is that negligence proven? Most of the time, it’s obvious. If you were stopped at a traffic light, stop sign or in traffic and were struck from behind, it’s easy to see that the driver who rear-ended you is at fault. So long as there is nothing you could have done to avoid being hit, liability is unlikely to be disputed.
There are a few scenarios in which a rear-end crash could be considered the fault of the vehicle in front. Should a driver back up unexpectedly, make a sudden stop to turn and fail to actually follow through with their turn, or if their brake lights do not work, the rear-ended driver could be held liable for damages. The legal significance of the driver’s negligence depends largely upon how much their actions contributed to the wreck.
When to Seek Legal Help
In many cases, the negligent driver’s insurance company will want to settle quickly. The figure they offer will be determined by the cost of the damage done in the wreck, the severity of the injuries sustained, and the long-term impact of the accident. The insurance company may offer a sum in exchange for an agreement that you will not seek more compensation. Sign that agreement and you waive the right to ask for any additional damages, even if the ultimate cost of medical treatment balloons beyond the settlement amount.
An attorney can be a valuable ally. Anyone unsure of whether or not to accept a settlement offer should consider speaking with an accident lawyer. In many cases, an attorney can negotiate a higher settlement amount. If a reasonable settlement cannot be agreed upon, your lawyer can escalate the talks to a lawsuit against the negligent driver. While most cases settle without ever going to court, having a lawyer represent your best interests is always a good idea.
If you need help connecting with a trustworthy, experienced personal injury lawyer in your area, Lawsuit Info Center can help. Our injury settlement calculator can provide answers to initial questions you have about the value of your case, and our free case reviews can give you the answers you need about your next steps.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the most common cause of rear-end collisions?
Almost 1/3 of all automobile accidents in the United States are caused by rear-end crashes, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The most common reasons for rear-end crashes are:
- Speeding and reckless driving: When people speed, they do not have as much time to slow down for traffic ahead. It is important for everyone to go no more than the speed limit.
- Distracted driving, such as with a cell phone: It is illegal in all states to text and drive, and if you are caught doing this in an accident, you can face serious penalties.
- Traffic and not maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you: It is your responsibility to maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front of you.
- Mechanical failures: If you do not take proper care of your vehicle, such as fail to change the tires and suffer a blowout, you can get into serious rear-end crashes.
- Drowsy driving: More people are driving longer distances to and from work, leading to people falling asleep behind the wheel.
- Driving under the influence:
Probably the reason that is leading to more rear-end crashes is texting and driving. In some studies, texting and driving leads to more fatal accidents than drunk driving.
No matter the reason for the rear end accident, you can have a variety of injuries, including ankle and knee damage; whiplash; head and facial injuries from the deployment of the airbag; and carpal tunnel due to bracing for the crash.
You also can get even more severe injuries from a rear-end crash, such as brain and/or head trauma; closed head injuries; neck and back injuries; nerve damage in the legs or back; spinal cord injuries; and blunt force trauma caused by hitting the steering wheel.
Can I be at fault if I was rear-ended by another motorist?
The driver in the rear is usually responsible for a rear end accident; every driver has a duty to follow other drivers at a distance that is safe. This is because drivers may suddenly slow or come to a stop without warning. You should always keep enough distance between you and the next car to avoid a collision. However, there are some scenarios where the driver of the car that is hit from the rear is negligent, too.
For example, you could be liable as the front car in a rear-end crash if you suddenly reverse on the road, such as at a stop light. You also could be cited if you slow down to make a turn and do not actually complete the turn. Further, if your brake lights are not working, you could be liable, and if you have a flat tire and do not pull over and are not using your hazard lights, you could be liable as well.
In those above examples, the driver of the car that was hit from behind would probably be considered negligent at least in part. The legal effect of your negligence will hinge upon how much the driver’s negligence led to the car accident. It also is important how your state treats accidents where more than one driver is at fault.
If there is more than one driver at fault, the legal result depends upon the law in the state. There are still a few states such as Virginia that have a strict contributory negligence rule. This means if you caused the rear end crash in any way, even 1% of the blame, you cannot make a legal claim.
However, many states today follow a version of comparative negligence. This means your amount of recovery depends upon how much liability you have for the accident. For example, if you are found to be 25% responsible for a rear end crash and you had $10,000 in damages, your recovery would be only $7500.
What injuries are caused in a rear-end car accident?
Most rear-end accidents take the victim by surprise. They are jarred suddenly in violent fashion as they are sitting at a stop light or red light, in many situations. Some rear-end accidents allow you to walk away with minor or no injuries, but some injuries can be serious, such as:
- Soft tissue: One of the most frequent injuries in such a crash is soft tissue injuries in the neck and/or spine. When the car is rear-ended suddenly, even at a low speed, the snapping of your head back and forth can put a lot of pressure on soft tissue in the neck, leading to whiplash.
- Disc herniation: This happens when the outside fiber of a spinal disc is torn or ruptured in the rear end crash. You can experience this injury in either the cervical or thoracic area, but it is most common in the lumbar part of the spine. You can have severe back pain, tingling, numbness and even paralysis.
- Broken bones: Broken bones can be severe in serious car accidents and can lead to complications including damaged organs and fused bones, which can cause deformity and disability for life.
- Brain injury: While neck and back injuries are more common, a serious brain in injury is possible in a rear end accident.
- Concussion: A concussion is always a risk in a rear-end crash because your head may strike the steering column, dashboard or windshield. A concussion happens when the brain strikes the inside of the skull, leading to brain bruising.
What happens to your body when you get rear ended?
The NTSB reports there are more than 1.7 million rear end accidents per year, which result in 1700 fatalities and 500,000 injured. These types of serious car accidents can cause serious bodily injuries that can result in thousands of dollars of medical and rehabilitation costs.
The tremendous forces involved in a rear end crash can lead to the following serious injuries. Keep in mind that when a five ton vehicle hits you from behind at only five miles per hour, your body can experience a variety of serious injuries.
- Sprains and strains: When the car behind you slams into yours, you can experience a variety of strains and sprains, especially in the neck and back. This is due to damage to ligaments that are stretched beyond what they are supposed to. These injuries can cause serious discomfort, including soreness, swelling, bruising, stiffness and more.
- Herniated discs: When the car hits you from behind, a disc in your back can become herniated and protrude into the canal in the spinal vertebrae. The disc can press on a spinal nerve and cause pain to shoot into your arms and legs.
- Whiplash: Cervical acceleration and deceleration injuries are usually referred to as whiplash. This is a sprain and strain injury that happens when the spine or neck is jerked in a violent fashion due to impact from the crash.
If you do not seek treatment soon after you are hit from the rear in a car accident, you could have scar tissue form and lose the normal range of motion in the affected part of the body. Over time, wear and tear from aging, also post traumatic osteoarthritis, can cause discs to degenerate, degeneration of the joints and/or bone spurs.