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What is the Law on Rear-End Collisions?

The driver in front of you suddenly slams on his or her brakes. You cannot stop in time and slam into the rear of the other person. Rear-end collisions are a common method by which accidents occur and it is common for investigating law enforcement officers to cite the driver who rear-ended the other driver for “following too closely.” This leads many drivers who rear-end other drivers to avoid seeking compensation, believing that they are at fault for causing the accident. Even if you rear-ended another car, you should still seek the assistance and advice of a qualified car accident lawyer.

What Causes Rear-End Collisions?

Despite the perception that rear-end collisions are always the fault of the trailing vehicle, the truth is both the leading and the trailing vehicle may have played a role in causing the rear-end collision. The leading vehicle may have:

  • Been traveling at an unreasonably slow speed;
  • Suddenly stopped without reason or turns without signaling; or
  • Unintentionally reversed his or her vehicle, running into the vehicle behind him or her;

In a similar way, there are actions and activities in which a driver of a trailing vehicle can engage that can cause a rear-end collision:

  • Driving while distracted by a cellular telephone, the radio, or another passenger;
  • Following the leading vehicle too closely, especially during wet conditions; and/or
  • Driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, which can increase the driver’s reaction time.

Like any other car crash, a complete investigation into the crash is necessary to determine what caused the accident. There may be actions that both the leading and the trailing drivers committed that had a role to play in causing the crash, and identification of each of these factors is essential for obtaining fair compensation for each party. For example, the trailing driver may have been distracted by reading a text message while the leading driver missed a turn and slammed on his brakes. Both drivers in this example would have had a part to play in causing the rear-end collision.

Can a Trailing Driver in a Rear-End Collision Recover Any Compensation?

After a thorough investigation, if it appears that the leading driver contributed in some way to the accident the trailing driver may be entitled to recover compensation. Where more than one individual’s carelessness contributed to a crash, the court (or jury) will express each person’s responsibility for the crash as a percentage. The law in California allows an injured plaintiff to recover compensation for his or her injuries so long as the defendant in the lawsuit (the one accused of negligence in the particular lawsuit) is at least one percent responsible for causing the crash. The plaintiff’s compensation award is reduced proportionately. So if a plaintiff is otherwise entitled to $100,000 in compensation in a rear-end collision, but is found to be 50 percent responsible for his or her injuries, the plaintiff will only be entitled to recover $50,000. If the same plaintiff is found to be 99 percent responsible for causing the rear-end crash, then he or she may only recover $1,000.

What if a Court Determines I Am 100 Percent At Fault in Causing the Crash?

If a court listens to the evidence in your rear-end crash and finds that you are 100 percent responsible for causing the crash, then you will not be entitled to recover any damages for your injuries (the other party involved would, however, be entitled to recover damages from you).


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