According to the National Safety Council, each year there are more than 6 million car accidents. Of those, 2.5 million are rear-end auto accidents. In this section, we cover various aspects of rear-end collisions, including:
- Common causes of rear-end accidents
- Common injuries
- Who’s at fault – liability
- Gathering important evidence
- Duty to mitigate
- When you need an attorney
Common Causes of Rear-end Auto Accidents
While reviewing each of the following causes, it’s a good idea to keep in mind how negligence may play a role in your personal injury claim.
Tailgating – Most state traffic codes have abandoned the law requiring a car stay one car-length behind for every 10 miles per hour. Today, the majority of traffic codes simply require a driver to stay a “prudent” distance behind the vehicle in front. When a driver is imprudent and tailgates, he often can’t stop quickly enough when the driver in front comes to a sudden stop.
Driver inattention – Distractions from cell phone usage, eating, putting on makeup, listening to loud music, conversing with passengers, looking into the back seat to check on young children, and looking away from the road are frequent causes of driver distraction.
Driver intoxication – Alcohol significantly compromises a driver’s reflexes, especially when he’s intoxicated. He can’t judge distances. While reaching for beer cans or other open containers of alcohol, he diverts his eyes. Falling asleep is also a common occurrence for intoxicated drivers.
Weather conditions – Rain, snow, slush, ice, high winds, and fog can affect a driver’s ability to see in front of him, to stop in time, and to keep his car within the lane.
Road defects – Potholes, stop signs bent or obscured by foliage, and non-working traffic signals can all contribute to a rear-end accident.
Children, animals, and pedestrians – Animals in the road, soccer balls, baseballs, footballs, children wandering into the street, and jaywalking pedestrians can all force a driver to stop unexpectedly.
Construction – The sudden appearance of flag-bearing construction workers or cement, and other commercial vehicles suddenly backing into traffic frequently cause unexpected stops.
Police and radar guns – Sudden stops when police cars or radar guns appear or when the police stop a vehicle on the side of the road are major distractions.
Accidents – Sudden car accidents directly in the lane of traffic ahead can bring everyone to a quick stop.
Faulty brake lights – Cars whose brake lights fail don’t give the car behind adequate notice of the driver’s intention to stop.
Vehicle breakdowns – Cars that break down in the lane of traffic, especially when no flares are set out are major distractions.
Common Injuries in Rear-end Accidents
“Whiplash” is a term used to describe pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulder area that occurs when the neck, shoulders, and spine suddenly and violently move, or “snap” well beyond their normal range. Also referred to as hypertextension and hyperflexion, the sudden snapping of your neck, shoulders, and spine is like the motion of a whip as it snaps, hence the term whiplash.
According to the National Safety Council, 20 percent of all people involved in rear-end collisions suffer a whiplash injury. Of those, almost 80 percent experience pain and soreness lasting longer than a week. Fifty percent have pain and soreness that lasts more than a year.
The force of impact, even at low speeds, can result in compression of your spine and the disks located in the lower back area of the spinal column. It’s often referred to as “disk herniation.”
The sudden impact is like the less serious force on a person’s back and spine when an elevator suddenly and unexpectedly stops. When it does, the force of gravity is strong enough to buckle the knees and exert extraordinary pressure on the vertebrae. The resulting pain and soreness can be excruciating.
Face and head injuries – airbags
Many rear-end auto accidents occur at speeds of less than 20 miles per hour. Although there are various factors involved in the deployment of an airbag, it’s commonly understood airbags deploy at speeds of 20 miles per hour and higher.
In a slow speed rear-end collision when airbags don’t deploy, your face can smash into the steering wheel. The force of the impact can break your nose, fracture your cheek and jawbone, and even detach your retina.
Less serious injuries are lacerations (cuts), contusions (bruises), and abrasions (scrapes) to your face and scalp. When speeds are higher than 20 miles per hour and airbags do deploy, the impact can result in burning of your facial area and scalp.
Wrist, finger, hand, and arm injuries
The force of a rear-end car accident can cause your wrists, hands, fingers, and arms to jerk violently on the steering wheel and hit the sun visor. If you’re a passenger, the same injuries are possible. Even when airbags deploy, your wrists, fingers, hands, and arms can still become wedged between the airbag and the steering wheel or dashboard.
Seatbelts and harnesses are supposed to instantly and firmly hold your torso from striking the steering wheel, dashboard, sun visor, and even the console and shifting column. When your torso thrusts forward, the seatbelt can lacerate your skin and bruise your hip, chest, and torso area.
Who’s at fault?
All drivers have a legal duty of care (obligation) to drive safely. This means drivers must follow local traffic laws, not drive recklessly, maintain a proper lookout for other drivers and pedestrians, and keep their cars in working order so they don’t cause accidents.
When a driver breaches (violates) his duty of care, it’s often because he’s negligent. In a rear-end collision, this can happen when he takes his eyes off the road or drives recklessly, or when his brakes fail because he didn’t have the brake fluid checked or the brake pads replaced. These are all negligent actions.
When a driver’s negligence results in his striking your car from behind, you have a legal right to compensation for your injuries and related costs, also known as damages.
However, before you file a claim against his insurance company, you must have proof he was negligent and his negligence was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of the accident and your injuries. The courts call it your burden of proof. Simply put, the burden is upon you to prove the other driver caused the accident, and the accident caused your injuries.
To meet your burden of proof, you must have a preponderance (majority) of the evidence against the other driver. How much is a preponderance of the evidence? Well, a good way to look at it is to say your evidence must be at least 51 percent more than any evidence the driver might have saying it’s not his fault.
If an insurance company doesn’t agree you have at least 51 percent of the evidence against their insured, it may deny your claim. Insurance company claims adjusters know what 51 percent of the evidence is. They have training to spot evidence and analyze it. Just make sure you have as much evidence of his negligence as possible.
If your evidence clearly shows the other driver was at fault, the claims adjuster will know you met your burden of proof. He knows if he tries to get away with denying your claim, you may hire an attorney. That’s the last thing he wants.
To meet your burden of proof, you must gather as much evidence as possible to show the other driver was negligent. The more evidence you have, the better your chances are. Let’s look at some of the best evidence in rear-end auto accidents.
Call the police
If someone has injuries, you need an ambulance. If there are no injuries, the police probably won’t come. These days, unless someone is injured, the accident is slowing traffic, or it presents a danger to other motorists or pedestrians, the police won’t respond. Whether they respond or not, you need to gather as much evidence as you can.
Take out your camera. If you don’t have one, use your cell phone. Unless it’s absolutely necessary for safety reasons, don’t move the cars. Take pictures of the other driver and all passengers. Photograph the cars as they are. Photos of the point of impact are very important. Take close-ups and wide shots to include traffic signs, stoplights, and other information in context with the accident. This may be your only chance to take photos, so click away.
If a police officer is administering a field sobriety test to the other driver, use your cell phone’s video function to record the test from as close as possible. Also, photograph empty beer bottles or open containers of alcohol in and around the driver’s car.
Incident or police reports
If the police respond, make sure to get the service number of the police report. You can pick it up from the police department in a few days for less than $10. The report will indicate the investigating officer’s opinion of the cause of the accident. It will also show any tickets issued to the driver such as failure to yield, following too closely, reckless driving, etc. It will also show whether the driver has an arrest record for DUI or other infractions.
Take out a piece of paper. Write down witnesses’ names and contact information. If they have information showing the other driver was at fault, get it. Maybe a witness saw him texting, talking on the phone, looking away, etc.
Admissions of fault are very important. Statements like “My brakes weren’t working,” or “I was on my cell phone,” or “I shouldn’t have been drinking,” are all considered admissions against interest (against the driver’s self-interest) and are strong evidence of negligence.
Your medical records are crucial. Remember you must not only prove the other driver caused the accident, but also that the accident was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries. Here’s where your medical records come into play.
It’s important for your doctor to confirm in her diagnosis that your injuries were directly caused by the accident. She might say your concussion resulted from hitting your head on the steering wheel, or that your whiplash was caused by your neck snapping back from the force of the impact. The connection between the accident and your injuries is crucial. In her prognosis, it will help if she refers to the type of medical treatment you may need in the future.
Duty to Mitigate – Comparative Negligence
Although the evidence may be clear the other driver slammed into the rear of your car, if you contributed to the accident in any way you will share liability for your damages. The claims adjuster will incorporate your own negligent actions into her evaluation of your insurance claim.
You were struck from behind while driving and were injured. Your medical bills alone came to $10,000. However, there’s evidence your brake lights weren’t working at the time of the collision. Instead of the other driver accepting 100 percent liability, the insurance company said you were 50 percent liable because your brake lights weren’t working, and as a result their insured didn’t know you stopped.
In a case like this, the insurance company compares your percentage of negligence to the other driver’s. Your compensation goes down according to the percentage assigned to you. That’s comparative negligence.
Nine out of 10 times, the vehicle striking another vehicle from behind is fully liable for the damages he causes. This includes property damage to the car itself, personal property inside the vehicle like computers, cell phones, etc., and any injuries the driver and his passengers suffer.
There are a few exceptions to rear-end liability, such as:
- If the driver in front was driving erratically or recklessly, making it impossible for the driver behind to avoid hitting him, even from a safe distance behind
- If the driver in front suddenly stops his car in the lane of traffic and fails to set out flares or give any other reasonable notice to the driver behind
- If the driver behind is traveling a safe distance and at a safe speed, but fog, snow, rain, or other inclement weather conditions makes it impossible for him to stop
- If a driver behind is traveling at a safe distance and speed behind the vehicle in front, but a third vehicle strikes the driver from behind, pushing him into the first vehicle
These exceptions can serve to mitigate or extinguish the liability of the driver who strikes another vehicle from behind. In cases like these, the insurance company compares each driver’s actions to the other’s actions. The drivers will receive compensation according to the percentage of their responsibility for the collision. Forty-five states follow the comparative negligence rule.
Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia don’t recognize the comparative negligence rule. Instead, they follow the contributory negligence rule. It states if the driver in front even slightly contributes to the accident (i.e. his brake lights were out, he was driving erratically, etc.), the law wholly excludes and bars him from recovering any compensation from the driver behind.
Do you need a lawyer?
It depends on your injuries and the circumstances of your case. Regardless of your situation, it’s always a good idea to get a free initial consultation . If liability is clear and your injuries are soft tissue, like lacerations (cuts), contusions (bruises), or abrasions (scrapes), or if you suffered whiplash or minor burns, you can probably handle your own insurance claim.
If your injuries are the more serious hard injuries like broken bones, disk hernias, spinal cord injuries, etc., you need an attorney. Hard injury insurance claims often require expert medical testimony, discovery of evidence (learning what the other side has), etc. Your attorney can subpoena this evidence and more.
See an example of a rear-end accident demand letter here.
Rear-End Collision with Two At-Fault Drivers
This case illustrates a fairly common accident scenario where a driver is cut-off, slams on their brakes, and is rear-ended by the vehicle behind them. We’ll look at who’s at fault and some other relevant legal issues.
Rear-End Car Accident Story
An all-too-familiar scenario occurs when a driver gets distracted and takes his eyes off the road. Due to poor weather conditions a chain reaction occurs and there are several injured parties. We’ll take a look at who is responsible and why.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Visitor Questions on Rear-end Collisions
Can I sue for damages caused by rubbernecking driver? I was going south from the on-ramp onto I270 in Modeste. Traffic was moving at 60-65 mph in the right lane. On the shoulder there were 4-5 SUVs, and then a police car and another small car with detectives looking for drugs. Because the road veered right you could not see the drug bust action... Read More >>
Police officer only did an exchange of information in hard collision? I was rear-ended hard at a stop light yesterday. The light had just changed and I was beginning to accelerate when the collision occurred. The driver had not been stopped at the light but instead came up behind me. This was not a light fender bender but a hard hit. The police were called and... Read More >>
When should I settle? I was rear ended at a stop sign. I went to the ER the next day and was diagnosed with a muscle sprain. I am being offered $850 for my pain and suffering. The medical bill has not been issued yet, but according to their billing department the expected costs are $260-867. Is this a... Read More >>
Who is at fault? I was driving the speed limit at night on a dark street when I suddenly saw a pick up truck stopped in the middle of the road. I was unable to stop and struck the vehicle from behind. The pick up had a mechanical breakdown and was completely dead (no brake lights, hazard lights, nothing).... Read More >>
Am I responsible for my 18 year old daughter’s accident? My 18 year old daughter was staying with us for a couple months. Her drivers license had my address listed, but she had been living with her father for the last 2 years. She just never changed her address. At the time of the accident she was with us for about a week. This was... Read More >>
Insurance denying medical bills since only minor vehicle damage? I was a passenger in a minor rear end collision. We were at a stop light and the other driver was not paying attention and rear ended us. The car was not badly damaged however we did sustain minor aches and pains. The driver and myself both went to the ER to get checked out... Read More >>
Why is the middle car in a 3 car pile up liable for damages? There was a stopped line of traffic at an interstate exit. The last car in the line of stopped vehicles was rear-ended hard, pushing it into the stopped car in front of it. So let’s call them: Rear car (1st to rear-end a car — large SUV) Middle car (1st to get hit; got pushed... Read More >>
Liability for multi car accident if driver does not have a license? My son was at a stop light waiting for it to change green when another car rear ended him. When he was rear ended his car was pushed forward and rear ended the car in front of him (which was waiting for the green light also). My insurance covers only liability, and it only covers... Read More >>
Rear ended after I made a left into an intersection… I made a left turn into an intersection from a parking lot. My visibility of oncoming traffic was not very good. I proceeded slowly with caution. Another driver had waved me to proceed. A driver who I had not seen coming in the lane into which I turned hit me in the rear shortly after... Read More >>
What happens if the driver who hit me didn’t have a license? An SUV ran into my car. My left signal to turn was blinking, but seeing the vehicle coming at me at considerable speed, I turned the car toward the right trying to get off the road and to the side as quickly as possible. But I wasn’t quite fast enough and the oncoming driver scraped... Read More >>
How can I get the responsible party to increase their settlement offer? While exiting off the highway I was rear-ended by a semi truck. After impact, my adrenaline was so elevated at the notion of saving my kids from the twisted metal that I had no symptoms of pain. However, the next day the pain was evident – 18hrs after the accident I went to the ER.... Read More >>
How much should I settle for a torn rotator cuff and high medical bills? In July of 2013 I was tail ended… 3 of my 5 children were in the car as well as my fiancé with no injuries them, only myself. I went through a major surgery on my rotator cuff and it has caused me to be out of work for about 8 months now. I am... Read More >>
Getting sued by driver who rear ended ME! I had a flat tire that was wedged in the wheel well so I stopped my car on the highway. I had the emergency lights on but a man rear ended me from behind. My car was totaled. I was transported to the ER for a whiplash injury and still suffer from constant neck and... Read More >>
Rear Ended in “No Fault” State… A reckless driver rear ended me when I was fully stopped at red light. The impact pushed my vehicle into the car in front of me, which was also stopped at the red light. The accident totaled my car. The day of the accident I was taken to the emergency room of the hospital. I... Read More >>
SUV Rear Ended… I was sitting at a red light and got rear ended by the woman behind me. I was driving a SUV and she was driving a small car. She was not paying attention and at the last minute instead of hitting the brake she hit the gas. My truck is totaled but luckily I did... Read More >>
Rear Ended While Waiting to Turn at an Intersection… I was waiting at an intersection to make a left hand turn when another car hit me in the rear drivers side of my car (my point of contact was 6 his point of contact was 1). I was in the intersection waiting to turn for about 30 seconds prior to the collision. Who is... Read More >>
Settlement for Pain and Suffering in Rear End Accident… I was rear ended on July 1, 2010. The airbags deployed in the car that hit me. I spent 5 months in physical therapy for shoulder and neck pain. I stopped physical therapy because I hit a plateau, so I took several months off. The at-fault insurance company came to me via e-mail with an... Read More >>
Protecting Children From Future Injuries After a Car Accident… My 2 children and I were passengers in a friend’s car and we rear ended another vehicle. My daughter was transported by ambulance to the hospital where they took x-rays and did a ct scan. Everything ended up being ok with her at the time. My concern is that over time while she grows up... Read More >>
Rear End Accident Causes Transmission Problems… I was in a car accident on September 21, 2011 where someone ran into the back of my vehicle. After the accident I noticed some problems with the transmission on my car. For example, I was trying to take my son to school and the car was locked in park and would not move. The... Read More >>
My Car is Totalled After Rear End Accident… I was driving in a storm and was pulled over to the side of the road as was directed by the police officers. The vehicle behind us did not notice we were stopped and rear ended us causing the vehicle to be a complete write off. There were four people in the vehicle and all... Read More >>
Rear Ended by Motorcycle after Stopping Short… I was forced to stop short because a pick up truck crossed in front of me. A motorcycle that was driving behind me rear ended me. Who is at fault in this accident? Read More >>
Insurance Company Not Paying Medical Bills… I was driving and got hit from behind in February 2011. The insurance company still hasn’t settled for my hospital bills, lost wages or prescription costs. I haven’t been back to the doctor even though I still have problems because I don’t want the medical bills to keep piling up. What can I do? Read More >>
Rear ended while riding a motorcycle… Yesterday I was rear ended while riding my motorcycle. It happened at approximately 11:40am. I was riding northbound on Lincoln Blvd, splitting traffic while approaching a very dense intersection on the corner of Lincoln and Michigan in Santa Monica – an intersection where the right lane leads to access for the 10 east bound and... Read More >>
At Fault Driver’s Auto Insurance Won’t Pay for Personal Injuries… I was rear ended on the way to work one day. The driver pushed me forward and I ended up hitting the car in front of me. The driver who hit me had auto insurance but no license. I didn’t have auto insurance at the time. His insurance is willing to pay for the damages... Read More >>
Back Injuries from Rear End Car Collision… The weather was clear and the streets dry. We were about to proceed in traffic when I saw the emergency vehicle to our right stopped for an officer and was rear ended pretty hard by another vehicle. The Park Forest, IL officer witnessed the accident and called paramedics. My 5yr old was buckled in his... Read More >>
I need help with the auto accident claim process… I was stopped at a red light when another driver slammed into the back of my vehicle. The other driver admitted to police that he took his eyes off the road and didn’t know traffic had stopped. I have moderate to severe back and neck pain, which at this point I can control with medication.... Read More >>
Adjuster Denied Insurance Claim… I rear ended someone. I took my eyes off the road for an instant and I slammed into the guy because he stopped when a dog ran out in the road. The cop said I followed too close. My insurance company refuses to pay for the damages, saying it was a sudden emergency. The accident... Read More >>
Pain and Suffering for Soft Tissue Injury? I was making a left turn at a green arrow, & the oncoming driver ran a red light, I hit my breaks to avoid colliding with them and the person behind me ran into me. That person who rear-ended me has accepted liability. I went to the ER a couple of hours after the accident... Read More >>