Who pays for your injuries after a rear-end accident? Here’s what you need to know to get fair compensation from the insurance company.
More than 556,000 people are injured annually in rear-end collisions, accounting for almost a third of all injury-causing car crashes.¹
The average American can expect to be in four car accidents during their lifetime, and since rear-end accidents are the most common, it’s only a matter of time.
Knowing what to do after a rear-end collision, and the pitfalls to avoid will pave the way for a successful insurance claim. This guide can help you get the compensation you deserve.
Causes of Rear-end Accidents
You can be the most careful driver on the road, but it’s almost impossible to avoid a collision that comes from behind.
Tailgating: Almost every state has traffic laws that require drivers to “follow at a safe distance.” Safe drivers should allow a safe following distance of at least three seconds for stopping if the car in front should stop suddenly. More stopping time should be allowed for bad weather, bad road conditions, or poor visibility.
Distracted driving: Cell phone usage, eating, putting on makeup, listening to loud music, talking with passengers, looking into the back seat to check on young children, and looking away from the road are frequent causes of rear-end accidents.
DUI: Drugs and alcohol significantly compromise a driver’s reflexes and reaction time. Intoxicated drivers don’t accurately judge distance or speed, and may nod off behind the wheel.
Weather: Rain, snow, slush, ice, high winds, and fog can affect a driver’s ability to see ahead, to stop in time, and to stay within the lane.
Sudden stops: An abrupt stop can contribute to a rear-end collision, but it’s seldom an acceptable reason to put all the blame on the driver of the car in front. Drivers can abruptly stop for many reasons, like to avoid hitting a child or animal, because of road conditions, an accident up ahead, police activity, or construction.
Common Rear-end Collision Injuries
Every traffic accident has the potential for fatal injuries, even rear-end collisions. Most commonly, however, people hurt in rear-end accidents suffer from soft-tissue injuries.
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 hyperextension and hyperflexion, the neck movement is like the motion of a whip as it snaps, giving the condition its name.
As many as one out of five people involved in rear-end collisions suffer a whiplash injury. Of those, almost 80 percent experience pain and soreness lasting more than a week. Fifty percent have pain and soreness for more than a year.
Back injuries from the sudden impact of a rear-end accident can be extremely painful. 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. Rear-end accidents are a common cause of herniated or bulging disks.
Face and head injuries don’t just happen in high-speed crashes. Many rear-end auto accidents occur at speeds below 20 miles per hour.
In a slow speed 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. You could end up with cuts and bruises on your face, and if the airbag deploys, the force can cause abrasions to the face and scalp.
Hand and arm injuries can happen to the driver and passengers from being jerked around by the impact. Sometimes hand or arm injuries are caused by the exploding force of the airbag.
Seatbelts are supposed to instantly and firmly hold your torso in place when the car is hit from any direction. In a rear-end collision, your body slams forward, hitting the safety straps. Bruising and scrapes to the shoulders, neck, and torso can result from the impact with your seatbelt.
Who Pays for a Rear-end Collision?
After an auto accident, you expect compensation for your property damage and personal injuries. Most of the time, the driver of the last car in a rear-end accident is assigned fault.
If you live in a no-fault insurance state, you can file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to get your car fixed, but you may be limited to your auto policy’s med-pay or personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to pay for your injuries.
Even in a no-fault state, you may be able to pursue the at-fault driver for injury compensation if your damages exceed the no-fault limit. Don’t hesitate to speak with a personal injury attorney about the value of your claim.
Outside of no-fault states, you’ll file a liability claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Most of the time, the driver who rear-ends another car is fully liable for the accident, and the only thing to hash out with the at-fault driver’s insurance company is the value of your injury claim.
However, there are times when the insurance company might say you are at least partly to blame for the crash, even though their insured rear-ended you. For example, if your brake lights weren’t working, and the driver behind you didn’t see you had stopped.
If you’re in this situation, talk to an attorney. Don’t rely on the insurance adjuster’s opinion of your fault.
Most states have comparative negligence laws, meaning you can pursue compensation from the other driver even if you were partly to blame for the accident. Compensation is reduced in proportion to your share of the blame. In many cases, an attorney can help prove that you have no responsibility for the crash.
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 a collision, even from a safe distance behind
- If the driver in front suddenly stops 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 make it impossible 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 the second car into the first vehicle
Be Prepared to Prove Your Claim
It may seem obvious to you that the driver who hit you from behind caused the accident. But don’t just sit back and wait for the money to roll in. The insurance adjuster doesn’t earn a year-end bonus by automatically handing out fat settlement checks.
It helps to know some terms used in insurance claims:
- Liability means fault or responsibility. The at-fault driver is usually liable for the damages you suffered in the rear-end collision.
- Negligence happens when a driver fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable driver would do, like tailgating.
- Damages for rear-end accidents can include property damages to your car, and personal injury damages like medical and therapy costs, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
- Proximate Cause is an action that leads to damages which wouldn’t have otherwise happened. You wouldn’t be suffering from whiplash if you hadn’t been rear-ended.
- Duty of Care means the obligation to be careful and avoid causing harm to others.
All drivers have a legal duty of care to drive safely. This means drivers must follow local traffic laws, maintain a proper lookout for other drivers and pedestrians, and keep their cars in working order.
When a driver violates their duty of care, it’s often because of negligence. A rear-end collision can happen when someone stops paying attention, drives recklessly, or has a brake failure from neglecting to have the brake fluid checked. These are all negligent actions.
When negligence causes a rear-end accident, you have a right to compensation for your damages. It’s up to you to provide evidence of the other driver’s negligence, and proof of your injuries.
You’ll need to prove you have injuries, the injuries happened because of the accident, and the losses you incurred.
Gather Evidence to Win Your Claim
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 for your rear-end auto accident claim.
Evidence at the Scene
Always call 911 when you’re involved in a traffic accident. Tell the dispatcher your location, if anyone is injured, and if there are traffic problems or dangers at the scene. In busy jurisdictions, police may not respond to minor, non-injury accidents. But you will still be able to show you contacted police.
If you are physically able, begin to gather evidence while waiting for police:
Photographs: Use your phone or whatever device you have on hand to take photos and video. Start with pictures of the cars and the surrounding area. Take as many pictures, from as many angles as you safely can. Take close-ups and wide shots to include traffic signs, stoplights, and other information in context with the accident.
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.
Witness statements: Write down the names and contact information of anyone who saw the accident. If you find willing witnesses, have them write down everything they saw and heard. Ask them to sign and date their written statement.
If the witness does not give a written statement, ask permission to record their statement using your phone. Be sure they mention their name and contact information on the recording.
Be prepared to collect the information you need with this free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy and a pen in your car along with your proof of insurance.
Continue to Collect Evidence
Detailed Notes: After the accident, make detailed notes about what happened before, during, and after you were rear-ended. Be sure to include anything the other driver may have said to you.
Statements like “My brakes weren’t working,” or “I was on my cell phone,” are considered admissions against interest and are strong evidence of negligence.
Police Report: If the police respond to the accident, an officer will investigate the accident and prepare an official police accident report. The report will indicate the investigating officer’s opinion of fault for the crash, list any citations issued to the other driver, and if the other driver was arrested for DUI.
Medical records: Your medical bills and records are crucial evidence proving the rear-end collision injured you, and how badly. Insurance companies are highly suspicious of whiplash cases because whiplash injuries are diagnosed mainly by the injured person’s complaints. You’ll need good medical documentation from a trustworthy doctor.
Stay away from “personal injury” doctors and chiropractors, who will run up your bills with excessive tests and questionable repeated treatments. You could get stuck with those bills. Insurance companies are only required to pay “reasonable” costs, based on commonly accepted standards of medical care.
Take pictures of your injuries right after the crash and throughout your recovery, including pictures of bruises caused by the seat belt or air-bag.
The total cost of your medical bills and related expenses are an important part of calculating your claim’s value.
When You Need an Attorney
If you’ve fully recovered from whiplash or other soft-tissue injuries, and only missed a short time from work, you can probably settle your injury claim without the help of an attorney.
Your injury compensation from the insurance company should be the total of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medications and medical supplies, your lost wages, and a reasonable amount for pain and suffering.
We’ve made it easier for you demand compensation with a sample Rear-end Accident Demand Letter.
If your claim is complicated, involves an uninsured motorist, or your claim was denied, you owe it to yourself to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Insurance adjusters are trained to settle complex claims for as little money as possible. They don’t care what it means to your or your family. Complex, high-dollar claims include:
- Wrongful death
- Multi-vehicle accidents
- Disabling or lingering neck or spine injuries
- Traumatic brain Injuries
- Permanent scarring
- Injuries to children or developmentally disabled adults
There’s too much at stake to handle complicated injury claims on your own. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.
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Rear-End Accident Questions & Answers
My son’s girlfriend, (nine months pregnant) was driving and stopped at a light. A vehicle two cars behind hers rear-ended the car in front which…
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