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Who’s At Fault in a Rear-End Car Accident?

Posted in Car Accident on December 10, 2019

Rear-end collisions are common types of car accidents in California. They can cause injuries to the back and neck, such as whiplash, as well as other parts of the body. A rear-end accident can also cause expensive damage to both vehicles. In California, it is necessary to identify fault for a car accident before filing an insurance claim. The insurer of the at-fault driver will be responsible for paying for victims’ damages under California’s fault law. Contrary to popular belief, the rear driver does not automatically bear fault for a rear-end car accident.

When the Rear Driver Is At Fault

The common assumption is that a rear driver will always be at fault for a rear-end car accident. While this is not always true, it is the case the majority of the time. The rear driver is responsible for keeping a safe following distance and watching the road. Breaching these responsibilities is a common cause of rear-end collisions. A distracted, drowsy, drunk or negligent rear driver may not see the lead vehicle stop in time to hit the brakes and prevent a collision. These types of accidents would be the rear driver’s fault for not paying enough attention to the road.

A rear-end collision could also be the rear driver’s fault if he or she had bad brakes. Bad brakes could cause a rear-end auto accident by preventing the driver from being able to stop suddenly enough to avoid a crash. Bad brakes are preventable with proper vehicle maintenance. Rear-end accidents due to bad brakes or brake failure could be the rear driver’s fault if he or she failed to maintain the vehicle.

When the Lead Driver Is At Fault

During an auto insurance claim for a rear-end collision, the insurance provider will not assume the fault of the rear driver. Instead, a claims adjuster will investigate the accident to determine fault. The insurance company may then refute the fault of its policyholder if it believes the lead driver to be fully or partially responsible for the collision. The lead driver could be at fault for the rear-end collision in a few different scenarios.

  • Unsafe lane change. A rear-end collision could occur if the lead driver cuts off the rear driver during an unsafe lane change. Merging on top of or right in front of another driver without leaving enough room is dangerous and can cause an accident. The lead driver could be at fault for a rear-end crash in this situation.
  • Brake-checking. Brake-checking is a common form of road rage that could give the lead driver at least partial liability for a rear-end collision. Although it is still the rear driver’s responsibility to leave ample following distance, the lead driver abruptly hitting the brakes to intentionally make the following driver crash could give him or her liability for the accident.
  • Broken brake lights. If the lead driver does not have working brake lights or taillights, the rear driver may not have enough warning that the lead driver is coming to a stop. Lack of brake lights could give liability to the lead driver for the collision if working brake lights reasonably would have prevented the crash.
  • Reversing into the rear car. If a rear-end collision occurred while the rear vehicle was parked or stopped and the lead driver reversed into it, the lead driver would be at fault. It would not matter if the collision was accidental or intentional; the lead driver would have to pay for the rear driver’s damages for reversing into the other vehicle.

Fault for a rear-end auto accident in California is not automatic. Although the rear driver is the most likely candidate for a defendant, the lead driver could also bear some or all of the fault if he or she was negligent or reckless in causing the collision. If you get into a rear-end accident and do not believe you were at fault, hire an attorney to help you investigate the crash and defend your side of the case. Otherwise, your insurance company may end up paying for an accident you did not cause.

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