Learn more about car accident injury claims. This example showcases the insurance claims of multiple injury victims from a three-vehicle rear-end collision.
Based on fact patterns drawn from actual car accident cases, this fictional case study illustrates several important legal issues that can arise from rear-end collisions.
The study reviews the circumstances leading to the accident, demonstrates rear-end liability, highlights common injuries caused by rear-end crashes, and covers settlement negotiations leading to the final claim resolution.
We wrap up with a list of important points and what to do after a rear-end collision.
Multi-Vehicle Rear-End Collision
The accident takes place at a busy four-lane intersection on a Saturday afternoon. A light rain had been falling all day. Traffic was congested since there was a holiday sale taking place at the big shopping center about 1/4 of a mile ahead.
Vehicle One: Bob Smith was driving the family SUV westbound toward the intersection, going about 10-15 miles per hour. His wife was in the front passenger seat, and their two young school-age children were in the back seat. Everyone was wearing shoulder and lap belts.
As they drove down the road, the children shouted and pointed when they noticed a dancing reindeer holding a sign advertising a sale.
Bob looked over at the dancing reindeer. He took his eyes off the road for no more than 5 seconds. When he looked back, the traffic in front of him was completely stopped.
Bob couldn’t hit the brakes fast enough to stop in time and, due to the slick roadway, slammed into the car in front of him.
Vehicle Two: Fred and Gena Wilson were on the way to their daughter’s house in their small four-door sedan. Fred was driving. The elderly couple had stopped behind a line of traffic waiting for a red light when their car was rear-ended by the Smiths’ large SUV.
The Wilsons’ car was abruptly pushed forward by the impact from behind.
Vehicle Three: The Wilsons’ vehicle was pushed forward on the wet road so far that their car collided with a motorcycle driven by 19-year old Tommy Jones. Tommy’s passenger was his 18-year old girlfriend, Karen Yoder, who was riding without a helmet.
The rear-end collision started a chain reaction resulting in a multi-vehicle accident that left several people injured and raised several liability issues.
Rear-End Accident Injuries
Vehicle One: In the Smith SUV, the entire family was properly restrained. They were in a larger, heavier vehicle that was traveling at a relatively low speed. The kids in the back seat suffered only a few bumps and bruises from the impact.
Bob and his wife each suffered a mild whiplash. Whiplash injuries occur when the body is restrained by a seat belt, but the neck is not. When the car jerks to a stop due to a collision, the head moves forward then backward in a whip-like motion, which can cause symptoms such as headaches, back pain, and a sore neck.
Vehicle Two: Fred and Gena Wilson also suffered whiplash neck injuries, but their injuries were more extensive and severe because of their age.
They experienced significant whiplash, neck, and back pain due to the rear-end collision. Because of the size differences of each vehicle, the SUV caused extensive property damage to the small sedan, and the impact was more severe – causing more significant injury.
Even though the Wilsons are more fragile due to their age, the driver of Vehicle One is still responsible for their injuries. The laws in most jurisdictions don’t allow insurance companies to discount a victim’s injuries – even with pre-existing conditions or fragile sensibilities.
Vehicle Three: Tommy Jones and Karen Yoder were the most seriously injured because they did not have the protection of a vehicle. Tommy’s arm was broken as he tried to stop the motorcycle from falling over. Kim suffered a traumatic brain injury when her head hit the pavement without a helmet. Both experienced extensive scrapes and bruises.
Liability for Rear-End Collisions
In a rear-end collision involving serious injuries, the police will arrive on the scene to manage traffic, arrange for emergency medical care, and investigate the crash.
The investigating officer will file an official report that includes a list of any citations issued for traffic code violations, witness statements, injuries, and overall cause of the accident.
Almost every jurisdiction in the United States has car accident laws that require motorists to allow a comfortable distance between themselves and the vehicle in front of them.
State driving laws also mandate a degree of care when the road conditions are less than ideal, such as in this case, where light rain raised existing oils on the road surface, making the roadway particularly slick.
Furthermore, drivers must keep their eyes on the road and avoid distractions while driving, such as cell phones or a dancing reindeer on the side of the road.
In this case, Bob Smith, driving Vehicle One, would be liable for damages sustained by the drivers and passengers of Vehicle Two and Vehicle Three.
The police investigation determined that Bob was at-fault for not only failing to allow enough distance to stop safely on wet roads, he also allowed himself to be distracted by the dancing reindeer his children were exclaiming about.
Insurance adjusters give a lot of weight to the police report when negotiating car accident claims.
Shared Blame Affects Liability
In this case, Bob was liable for the injuries and damages incurred by everyone else involved in the crash. He was the only driver to be ticketed, and the police report stated the other drivers were not at fault for the accident.
However, it’s important to understand that laws in other states might allow a portion of blame to fall on Fred Wilson in Vehicle Two if there is proof, like a police report, that shows Fred had been stopped too close behind the motorcycle at the time of the crash.
Shared blame can affect your right to injury compensation in a car accident.
- In states with pure comparative fault rules, you can seek bodily injury compensation from the other party even when you are mostly to blame for the accident, but your compensation will be reduced accordingly.
- On the other hand, in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the insurance company can use the pure contributory negligence rule to deny your claim if you share as little as one percent of the blame for the accident.
- Most states use modified comparative fault rules, meaning the insurance company would have to prove you were was equally to blame (50% rule) or more to blame (51% rule) than their insured before they can deny your injury claim.
Damages and Insurance Negotiations
Bob Smith was determined to be the driver at fault for the three-car collision. Bob’s auto insurance company accepted liability on his behalf, meaning they were willing to pay for the other victims’ damages.
Damages generally include the accident victim’s:
- Medical bills
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses
- Replacement services
- Lost Wages
- Pain and suffering
- Car repairs
Property damage claims for car repairs, or payout for the fair value of a totaled vehicle, are typically resolved right away. Injury claims are handled separately by a different claims adjuster.
Bob Smith’s auto insurance policy included bodily injury liability coverage of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.
Vehicle One: The Smith Family
The Smith family went to their family doctor for treatment of their mild soft-tissue injuries. Their minimal medical expenses were covered by their health care insurance. They made no injury claims to their auto insurance.
Vehicle Two: Fred Wilson and Gena Wilson
Fred and Gena Wilson were treated at the scene and taken by ambulance to the hospital. Because of their advanced age and underlying medical conditions, they both were admitted to the hospital overnight.
While the collision exacerbated Fred’s high blood pressure and Gena’s heart arrhythmias, they eventually recovered from their whiplash injuries. With the approval of their cardiologist, their internist treated their accident injuries by ordering six weeks of physical therapy and visiting nurse services for both Fred and Gena.
Fred and Gena each had accident-related medical expenses totaling $15,000 with all but $3,000 of that amount covered by Medicare.
Both Wilsons were retired, so they had no lost wages. They did have out-of-pocket expenses for replacement services. During their recovery from the accident, they had to hire a person to help with laundry, cooking, and cleaning. They spent a total of $2,000 on replacement services.
Through their attorney, Fred and Gena Wilson each made a $25,000 demand to Bob Smith’s insurance company to compensate them for the cost of their medical care, replacement services, and their pain and suffering.
The adjuster responded with a settlement offer of $20,500 each. Knowing that there were other people badly injured in the crash, the Wilsons accepted the settlement offer. They didn’t want to end up in court fighting with the other accident victims over the available funds.
Because their attorney was able to negotiate a reduction to the subrogation lien against their injury settlement from Medicare, the Wilson’s walked away with a larger portion of the insurance settlement after all the bills were paid.
Vehicle Three: Tommy Jones and Karen Yoder
When a car hits a motorcycle at any speed, the injuries to the motorcycle riders can be life-threatening. Tommy Jones and his girlfriend Karen Yoder were stabilized by paramedics at the scene and rushed to separate hospitals.
Tommy Jones was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for shock, a broken arm, road rash, and multiple deep bruises. He was in a cast for eight weeks. After the cast came off, Tommy had three weeks of physical therapy to restore range of motion to his arm. He fully recovered with $2,500 in medical bills.
Tommy missed 12 weeks of work during his recovery, as his job required the full use of both arms. His lost wages totaled $4,800.
Tommy Jones made a settlement demand of $11,000 to the insurance company for his medical bills, lost wages, and his pain and suffering.
After some back-and-forth negotiations with the insurance adjuster, Tommy agreed to settle his injury claim for $9,000. He understood that his girlfriend had a high-dollar injury claim, so Tommy was willing to take less.
Karen Yoder was transported from the accident scene to the nearest trauma center. Karen suffered a significant closed head injury after she was thrown from the back of a motorcycle without the protection of a crash-rated safety helmet. She also suffered some permanent scarring to the side of her face that hit the pavement.
After three days in the shock-trauma unit, Karen was released to the care of her parents under the supervision of a neurologist. She had regular testing and follow-up care. At the time of the crash, Karen was a full-time college student, home on break for the holidays.
Karen was unable to live alone, drive, work, or return to college for six months after the crash. She suffered severe headaches, dizziness, confusion, and sensitivity to light for several months into her recovery. Her medical bills totaled $25,000.
Karen had no memory of the accident but endured terrible nightmares. She became anxious and frightened whenever she heard loud noises or car tires screeching.
After negotiations with the insurance company, Tommy Jones, and the Wilson’s attorney, Karen Yoder’s injury claim eventually settled for $50,000.
The at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability insurance limits of $100,000 were exhausted.
If the injury victims had not been able to agree amongst themselves, then Bob’s insurance company would have filed an interpleader action. Each of the injured parties would have to present a court argument seeking a share of the available funds. The court would ultimately decide how to divide the available $100,000 among the four injured claimants.
Important Points About Rear-End Collisions
Protect Yourself On The Road
- It’s always a good idea to call the police when you’re in a vehicle collision. What you do immediately after a car accident can make or break your injury claim.
- Safety belts and helmets are critical to passengers as well as drivers. Most jurisdictions mandate the use of seatbelts in cars and safety helmets for bicycle and motorcycle riders.
- The driver who rear-ends the car in front is almost always at fault. Most vehicle codes require drivers to leave a comfortable distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front.
- Extra caution is required when driving in hazardous conditions.
- It’s important to leave adequate room in front of your car when stopped, just in case you are rear-ended.
Protect Yourself After a Collision
- Notify your own insurance company whenever you’re in a car accident, even when you don’t believe the accident is your fault. Your insurer has a duty to protect your interests, and there may be benefits you can use right away.
- Severe injury claims are best handled by an experienced personal injury attorney to get anywhere near a fair amount of injury compensation from the insurance company.
- Multi-vehicle rear-end collisions can be complicated. More than one driver might be to blame.
- If you’re injured in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, and your medical bills exceed the insurance limits of the at-fault driver, or the other driver had no insurance, then your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage kicks in.
- Your attorney may be able to negotiate a reduction to medical liens, so you can keep more of your insurance settlement.
- When there are multiple injury victims seeking compensation from the same auto policy, if the injured parties cannot agree on how to divide up the policy limits, the insurance company may file an interpleader action. The injury victims would then fight it out in court.
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