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Determining Fault in a Rear-End Collision

Rear-end collisions often result in significant property damage or injuries for those involved. However, determining fault after a rear-end collision occurs can be more challenging than most people think. It is not always the rear driver who is completely responsible for the incident. Here, we want to discuss how to go about determining fault after a rear-end collision occurs, and how a San Bernardino accident attorney can help your case.

How Rear-End Accidents Happen and Determining Fault

The reality is that rear-end collisions are not uncommon. When we look at some studies, particularly one available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we can see that rear-end collisions make up approximately 29% of all car accidents across the country.

These incidents occur in a wide variety of ways. In most of these cases, we find that fault will fall to the rear driver because of the very nature of how they occur. Some of the most common ways that we find that we are in collisions happen include:

  • Drivers following other vehicles too closely
  • Drivers operating well impaired by alcohol or narcotics
  • Distractions behind the wheel, including phones, other devices, other people in the vehicle, etc.
  • Operating too fast for conditions

Determining liability after a rear-end collision can be challenging, but it happens much like any other type of vehicle accident. Even if fault is rather clear due to how the incident occurred, some of the types of evidence that will be used to determine liability include photographs taken at the scene of the incident, the police report, statements from any eyewitnesses at the scene, an examination of vehicle damage, and possible video surveillance from nearby cameras.

Is the Rear Driver Always At-Fault?

Even though we did say that the rear driver is most usually going to be at fault for these collisions, that is not always true. There are various exceptions to when another driver, aside from the rear driver, could be at fault. This includes the leading driver:

  • Operating without tail lights or brake lights
  • Operating erratically, including slamming on brakes or speeding up
  • Changing lanes without using a turn signal or unexpectedly
  • Impaired by alcohol or drugs 
  • Distracted by their phones or something else in the vehicle

In situations where liability is in question after a rear-end collision, an extensive investigation is going to be necessary. All of the evidence we mentioned above will need to be gathered, and an accident reconstruction expert may need to be involved.

Shared Liability After a Rear-End Collision

It could be the case that there is shared liability for rear-end collision. In these situations, attorneys and insurance carriers will turn to California’s pure comparative negligence system when determining who recovers how much compensation.

California allows compensation recovery even if individuals are up to 99% at fault for causing their own injuries, but the total amount of compensation a person receives will be reduced depending on their percentage of fault. For example, let us suppose a driver sustains $100,000 worth of medical bills and property damage expenses after being rear-ended by another driver. However, let us also suppose that the rear driver had 60% of fault for the incident, and the front driver had 40% of the fault, possibly due to a busted taillight. In this situation, the front driver would receive $60,000 instead of the full $100,000 to account for their percentage of fault for the incident.