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Who is Usually At Fault In A Rear-End Collision?

Claims involving rear-end crashes aren’t always straightforward

Rear-end collisions are among the most common types of car accidents on Texas roads. While it might seem straightforward to determine fault in these incidents, the reality is more complex. Insurance companies often contest liability, making it challenging to receive fair compensation for your injuries and other losses.

Knowing how to establish liability in these cases is key to securing the compensation you deserve for medical bills, lost wages, and other damages resulting from the crash. That’s when having the knowledge and experience of a seasoned rear-end accident lawyer on your side can make a meaningful difference in the outcome of your case.

What is the most common injury from a rear-end collision?

Certain types of injuries are commonly associated with rear-end collisions and can serve as indicators of fault. The most common one is whiplash. This injury occurs when the neck snaps forward and backward rapidly and causes damage to soft tissue.

Whiplash is particularly significant in rear-end collisions because it often provides clear evidence of the impact's direction and force, which can help determine fault. In most cases, the driver who rear-ends another vehicle is considered at fault, as they are expected to maintain a safe following distance and be able to stop safely. The presence of whiplash can support the claim that the rear vehicle did not adhere to this responsibility.

Common symptoms of whiplash after a rear-end collision include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness.
  • Headaches, typically starting at the base of the skull.
  • Loss of range of motion in the neck.
  • Pain or tenderness in shoulders, upper back, or arms.
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
  • Sleep disturbances.

With proper care and treatment, most people recover from mild whiplash within a few weeks to three months. However, some may experience symptoms for six months or longer.

Other injuries that can occur in rear-end collisions include:

  • Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.
  • Soft tissue injuries to the arms, legs, shoulders, chest, or torso.
  • Back injuries such as herniated discs and spinal stenosis.
  • Spinal cord injuries from mild bruising to complete severance.

Each of these injuries can provide additional evidence of the collision's impact and severity, further supporting fault determination in rear-end collision claims. An experienced attorney can help gather and present this evidence effectively to ensure the responsible party is held accountable.

What are common assumptions about rear-end collisions?

In most rear-end collision scenarios, the driver of the trailing vehicle is typically presumed to be at fault. Again, this assumption stems from the basic traffic rule that drivers should maintain a safe following distance and allow sufficient time to stop or slow down to avoid colliding with the vehicle in front. However, there are situations where the lead driver may be held responsible. These include:

Sudden reversal of direction

If the lead driver unexpectedly puts their vehicle in reverse, causing a collision, they may be found at fault. This maneuver is unusual and often catches the trailing driver off guard.

Abrupt and unnecessary stops ("brake checking")

"Brake checking" occurs when the lead driver intentionally and suddenly brakes without a valid reason, often as an act of road rage or insurance fraud. This can lead to a rear-end collision for which the lead driver may be held liable.

Malfunctioning brake lights

If the lead vehicle’s brake lights are not functioning properly, the trailing driver may not receive adequate warning that the vehicle is slowing down or stopping. In such cases, the lead driver could be considered partially at fault due to vehicle maintenance negligence.

Sudden lane changes without adequate warning

When the lead driver changes lanes abruptly without signaling or allowing sufficient time for other drivers to react, they may be held responsible if a rear-end collision occurs as a result.

Driving under the influence

If the lead driver is found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, their impaired judgment and reaction times can contribute to causing a collision. This situation can shift some or all of the liability to the lead driver.

Additional points to consider

Weather conditions

Poor weather conditions like rain, fog, or ice can affect visibility and stopping distances. While these conditions don't necessarily absolve the trailing driver of responsibility, they can be considered when determining fault and liability.

Road hazards

Debris or sudden obstacles on the road that cause the lead driver to brake abruptly can complicate fault determination. The presence of road hazards should be documented and considered in the analysis of the accident.

Mechanical failures

If either vehicle experiences a mechanical failure that contributes to the collision, such as brake failure in the trailing car or sudden engine trouble in the lead car, this can affect fault determination.

How do insurance companies dispute rear-end collision claims?

Insurance companies are well aware of the exceptions where the lead driver may be at fault and often use these to shift blame onto the lead driver. They frequently question the severity of your injuries and the circumstances of your crash to minimize their liability and reduce your compensation.

Insurance companies may use the following arguments to shift the blame onto you and reduce their payout:

Your injuries are due to pre-existing conditions rather than the car accident

Example: If you had a previous back injury and the car accident aggravated it, the insurance company might argue that your current pain is from the old injury, not the collision. They could use your medical history to claim that the accident didn't cause your condition, thus reducing the amount they owe for your medical expenses.

You didn't seek immediate medical attention

Example: Suppose you felt fine immediately after the crash and decided not to visit a doctor right away (we always recommend seeing a doctor after a crash even if you feel fine). A few days later, you begin experiencing severe neck pain. The insurance company might argue that your injuries aren't serious or that they weren't caused by the accident since you didn't seek immediate medical care, undermining your claim.

You're exaggerating the severity of your injuries

Example: If your medical records indicate minor injuries, but you claim severe, debilitating pain, the insurance company might accuse you of exaggerating. They could hire their own medical experts to review your case and testify that your injuries are not as severe as you claim, thereby reducing the settlement amount.

Some of your medical treatments weren't necessary or directly related to the crash

Example: If you receive a variety of treatments, such as physical therapy or alternative therapies, the insurance company might argue that some of these treatments are unnecessary or not directly related to the injuries sustained in the crash. They could refuse to cover these costs, stating that the treatments were excessive.

You were partially at fault, perhaps by stopping suddenly

Example: Even in a rear-end collision, the insurance company might argue that you were partially at fault. If they can find evidence that you stopped abruptly without a valid reason, they might claim that your actions contributed to the accident. This can lead to a reduction in your compensation under Texas’ modified comparative fault laws.

How is fault determined in rear-end collisions?

To legally establish fault in a rear-end collision, four key elements must be demonstrated:

Duty

All drivers owe a legal duty to others on the road. This includes following traffic laws and driving safely to avoid harming others. In rear-end accidents, this typically involves maintaining a safe following distance and remaining attentive to traffic conditions.

Breach of duty

It must be shown that the at-fault driver failed to fulfill their duty of care on the road. This could involve behaviors such as:

  • Tailgating
  • Distracted driving (e.g., texting, eating)
  • Speeding
  • Driving under the influence
  • Drowsy driving
  • Failure to yield

Causation

The breach of duty must be directly linked to causing your rear-end collision. This often requires extensive evidence to connect the other driver's actions to the rear-end collision. For example, phone records might show a driver was texting at the time of the crash.

Damages

To have a viable case, you must have suffered actual injuries or losses due to the other driver’s negligence. These damages can include physical injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

What evidence proves fault in a rear-end collision case?

Proving fault in a rear-end accident often hinges on the quality and quantity of evidence collected. Here are key types of evidence that can strengthen your claim:

  • Police accident reports: These official documents provide key details about how your rear-end collision occurred. It may include initial assessments and statements from involved parties, as well as statements from the responding officer.
  • Photographic and video evidence: Photos of the crash scene, vehicle damage, and injuries can provide visual proof of the impact of your rear-end collision. Surveillance or dashcam footage can be particularly helpful if available.
  • Witness statements: Testimonies from bystanders or other drivers can offer unbiased accounts of your car accident.
  • Time-stamped navigation data: GPS or telematics data can provide insights into vehicle speeds and locations at the time of the rear-end crash.
  • Cell phone records: These can indicate if a driver was using their phone during the crash.
  • Skid mark analysis: Measurements and analysis of skid marks can indicate vehicle speeds and movements before a rear-end collision.
  • Expert testimony and accident reconstruction: In complex cases where fault is disputed, crash reconstruction experts can analyze crash dynamics to determine speed, impact angles, and force distribution.

How much is my rear-end collision claim worth?

The amount you can expect from a rear-end collision settlement depends on the severity of your injuries, how much your injuries cost you, and how they impact your life. Every case is unique, and there's no guaranteed amount.

Additionally, Texas follows a modified comparative negligence rule, with a 51% bar for seeking compensation. This means fault can be divided between parties involved in a crash. However, if you’re found more than 51% at fault, you can’t recover any damages.

If you’re found less than 51% at fault, your compensation will be reduced proportionately by your percentage of fault. For example, if your damages equal $100,000 and you’re found 20% at fault, you would receive $80,000.

It’s typically best to let an experienced car accident lawyer evaluate your damages and determine how much money you’re eligible to recover, including medical costs, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and any other losses related to your crash.

Let our rear-end accident lawyers protect your rights

If you or a loved one has been injured in a rear-end collision in Houston, TX, don't face the aftermath without legal representation. The experienced attorneys at Smith & Hassler are ready to fight for your rights and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. With over 30 years of experience handling car accident cases, we know how to find the facts that matter and build strong legal claims.

No matter how much the insurance companies try to push you around, we won’t let them use their tactics to take advantage of you. We can thoroughly investigate your case, gather key evidence, and stand up to pushy insurance adjusters on your behalf.

Take the first step toward protecting your rights and securing the financial compensation you deserve. Contact us online or call us today for a free consultation. There is no obligation to hire us. However, you pay nothing unless we win your case.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this article, “Who is Usually At Fault In A Rear-End Collision?”

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