Which Driver Is Responsible For A Rear End Auto Accident?
As an Orlando auto accident attorney, I regularly receive calls from people who have been injured as a result of a rear-end auto accident. Most people know that rear end auto accidents are frequently blamed on the rear driver. For the most part, if someone rear ends your vehicle during an auto accident, they will be liable for your injuries.
In Florida, there is something called a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver was at fault in a rear-end collision. Florida law forbids drivers from following other vehicles too closely. That means that you do not have to prove negligence, as long as you prove the driver rear-ended you.
However, one common misconception is that the rear driver is always to blame. But the rear driver may change the case outcome by presenting some evidence that the front driver did something wrong. There are cases where either the rear end driver is not responsible, or shares responsibility with other parties, including the injured victim. In Florida, we follow a concept called “comparative negligence.” That means that juries may sometimes assign a percentage of blame to everyone involved in an auto accident. But that only happens in rear-end cases when there is some evidence that the front driver did something wrong. Or at least that’s the simplest explanation I can give. These cases can get complicated.
Special Cases When Rear Vehicle May Not Be 100% Responsible For A Rear End Auto Accident
So, let’s say your brake lights weren’t working when the vehicle rear-ended you. Then the jury, or insurance company, might rightfully assign some percentage of blame to you. In that case, you could still recover some money from the at-fault driver, but the car accident settlement or verdict would be reduced to reflect your share of the blame.
According to another personal injury friend of mine, St. Louis auto accident attorney Christopher Hoffman:
If you are rear ended, take photos of your tail lights to show they are working because it is the only defense to getting hit from behind.
You might also have a more difficult rear end auto accident case if you were driving erratically or recklessly, somehow making it impossible for the rear driver to avoid hitting you. Or if you swerved suddenly in front of the rear driver, put your car in reverse, or stopped to make a turn, but failed to actually turn. You could also share some of the blame in a rear end auto accident, or even be fully responsible, if you stopped in the roadway, but failed to set out flares or give other notice to drivers behind you.
Other Rear End Collision Defenses
Sudden and unexpected stops, or illegal stops, may lead to some front driver blame. However, a sudden stop at an intersection is not unexpected, since all drivers should expect that a pedestrian, emergency vehicle, or vehicle running a red light might be approaching.
Mechanical failure in the rear vehicle may also remove or lessen rear vehicle liability.
Another situation is where there were multiple vehicles involved in a series of impacts. So, if a third car hit the car behind you, then that third person might bear some blame for your injuries.
Anyway, those are just examples. Not all rear-end auto accidents involve clear fault, although most do. Essentially all drivers have a duty to act reasonably, which can sometimes be a fuzzy standard. So jurors might have to decide who to blame, and how much, when asked to assign percentages of fault.
Rear Driver Possible Compensation For Injuries
An injured rear driver may recover compensation from the front driver for injuries, if one of the special exceptions discussed above applies.
Should You Care As Long As You Aren’t Responsible?
You might think it doesn’t matter which driver was responsible, as long it was someone other than you. But that’s not actually true. One problem in Florida auto accident cases is that drivers, including even commercial vehicle drivers, are usually not required to carry even one penny of bodily injury liability. (This is one reason adding uninsured motorist coverage to your existing auto insurance policies is very important; PIP is the only required coverage in Florida, yet is not nearly enough to pay for medical bills, much less pain and suffering, in a serious or even moderate injury collision). This means that one or both vehicles may not have any coverage available for you to collect. Or one of them does, but one doesn’t. In those cases, drilling down exactly what happened, play by play, is an important aspect of recovering money for your injuries.
The Insurance Company Does Not Automatically Have To Pay If Their Driver Caused The Accident
Assuming you can establish that the rear driver was at fault, which usually isn’t a problem, insurance companies still have many other ways of minimizing or avoiding payment to you. You see, a very large part of the battle in auto insurance cases involves the extent or severity of damages. You are entitled to recover your past and future medical bills caused by the accident, past and future wage loss caused by the accident, and past and future pain and suffering caused by the accident.
Common Insurance Company Defenses To Rear End Auto Accident Claims, Even When Liability Is Clear
But the amount of those things is not set in stone, by any stretch. There can be huge battles over those numbers. The insurance company may argue that pre-existing injuries caused your existing pain (although pre-existing conditions are a mixed bag in terms of whether they help or hurt cases). Another popular argument is that either a doctor performed surgery that wasn’t needed, or any medical provider gave unnecessary services (such as unnecessary physical therapy or chiropractic treatment). Yet another defense common to almost every auto accident case is that you are exaggerating your pain, suffering or life restrictions. Insurance companies have many sneaky tactics for trying to prove that you are lying, or trick you into saying something that gives that impression.
Insurance Company Tricks
For instance, they often seek to discredit you with jury by digging for evidence that you are capable of doing more than you’ve shared. For example, they may hire a private investigator to film you doing activities you claim to be impossible. They could also take a look at your Facebook account photos or status updates. (Remember: insurance company lawyers have the power to subpoena Facebook or other online account information, and that includes previously deleted items. This means even private posts could hurt your case, and you should talk to a lawyer rather than delete anything.) Or they might just ask you a question during your recorded statement or deposition that seriously hurts your case. Most people have no idea whatsoever what statements could hurt the value of their auto accident case. In fact, injury victims much more commonly make statements that they think would help, but actually hurt. (This is one reason I often cringe when people tell me they have already given a recorded statement, before contacting me.) Most people have no idea the many ways their claims can be devalued or even destroyed. Finally, sometimes insurance companies do not ask the right questions, yet you mistakenly volunteer case-killing information!
Call An Auto Accident Lawyer Who Will Listen To Your Detailed Story
The bottom line is that value of any rear-end accident case will vary a lot depending on the facts, including, most importantly, the extent of the victim’s injuries, and the amount of insurance coverage available. For all of those reasons, auto accident lawsuits, or pre-suit insurance claims, including even “simple” rear end collisions, are not the place to find yourself acting without a lawyer who is paying attention to details.
Ms. Willis is an auto accident and personal injury attorney based in Orlando, Florida, although she accepts serious injury cases statewide. You are invited to read more about her personal & professional background & practice philosophy here.