If You Rear End Someone, Are You Automatically Fully At Fault?

There seems to be a rumor floating around amongst drivers that if you rear end someone, you'll be held fully responsible for the accident. Your insurance company will have to cover all of the damages, and if they don't, the other driver can sue you and will win -- because you're absolutely at fault if you rear ended them. This scary rumor is not always true. While in many cases, you will be named fully at fault if you rear end another driver, there are exceptions to this guideline. Here's a look at a few of them.

The driver whose car you hit was not obeying traffic laws.

When you drive, you are expected to maintain a safe following distance so that, in general, you can avoid rear ending someone if they make a driving error like stopping suddenly. However, if the other driver's behavior was so extreme that you could not have avoided rear ending them even with a safe following distance, then you're unlikely to be found fully at fault for the accident. Likely, the court (or insurance company) will decide that the fault is shared between you and the other driver.

An example of this scenario would be as follows. Imagine you're driving along, approaching a car that is sitting at a stoplight that has just turned green. You slow down, and since you see the driver's brake lights turn off, you expect that they are moving forward. However, as you get closer, you suddenly realize the other driver is backing up in the lane! You slam on your brakes, but still bump the back of their car. Since the other driver was clearly disobeying traffic laws and acting in a way you could not have predicted, he or she is likely to be named at least partially at fault for this crash.

Poor road or weather conditions contributed to the accident.

The law expects drivers to modify their driving in order to drive as safely as possible in the current weather conditions. If it is determined that you are not doing this, and that your rear end collision is the result of your failure to modify your driving based on the weather, then you'll likely be named fully at fault for the collision. Sometimes, however, even if you do take the proper precautions, weather may contribute to the accident. If your lawyer can demonstrate that this was the case in your accident, you may only be named partially liable and be on the hook for only a portion of the expenses related to the accident.

A example of this scenario would be if you were driving in dense fog. You were going only 20 miles per hour, though the speed limit was 45. Your eyes were glued to the road, yet because of the fog, you were unable to stop in time by the time you saw the tail lights in front of you. Since you were taking precautions (driving slowly) you were doing all you could to avoid the accident -- but it still happened -- so you will probably only be named partially liable.

A third driver's actions actually caused the collision.

If a third driver's actions cause you to rear end a vehicle, then that third driver will likely be named fully or partially at-fault for the collision. If you were driving perfectly and obeying all laws, you may not be named at fault at all. On the other hand, if your behavior (such as following too closely or texting while driving) combined with the third driver's behavior led to the crash, you'll probably both be named partially liable.

An example of this would be as follows. Say you're sitting at a red light behind one other vehicle. A car rear ends you, pushing your car into the car in front of you. Since there was nothing you could have done in this scenario, the driver that rear ended you will likely be named at fault for the damage to your car and to the car that you hit.

Rear end collisions, as you can see, can be quite complex. To learn more about determining fault in these cases, speak to an attorney who specializes in accident cases at a firm like Stapleton Law Offices.