There are many ways in which a traffic accident can happen, but rear-end collisions are among the most common in California. Unlike many accidents, rear-end accidents are usually classified as “no-doubt” liability. This means the rear driver is virtually always at fault. If someone hits your car from behind, you are unlikely to be liable under the law, but there are some cases in which you can be found partially or even fully liable for the accident.
“No-Doubt” Liability in Rear-End Accidents
When someone’s car is struck from behind, the rear driver is virtually always considered liable regardless of why the first driver slowed down or even stopped in the road. This is because California traffic law requires all drivers maintain a safe distance to be able to come to a safe stop if the vehicle ahead of them slows or stops, even a sudden stop. If someone rear-ends you, there is an automatic assumption that they were not maintaining a safe distance.
Liability and Damages
The damages in any traffic accident tell a story of how the accident occurred and contribute to establishing liability. This is especially true in rear-end collisions. In these cases, one vehicle has a damaged rear end while the other car has a damaged front end. The damages tell a clear story about the circumstances of the accident and there will be no way to dispute what happened and who hit whom.
Multiple Vehicle Accidents and Rear-End Liability
Liability can become a bit complicated with rear-end accidents if more than two vehicles are involved. For example, two cars can be pushed into each other if a third vehicle strikes the car in the middle. This would force the rear driver to rear-end the driver ahead of him. In such cases, the third vehicle driver is held liable for the rear-end collision, even though the third vehicle didn’t even hit the first vehicle from behind. The drivers of the first and second cars can file claims against the third driver’s insurance policy for damages and injuries.
In a second example, who is liable if a driver rear-ends a vehicle ahead of him because a third vehicle caused the first car to stop suddenly? In this case, the driver who rear-ended the other car can have a claim against the driver who caused the first car to stop in the first place.
When is a Rear-Ended Driver Liable?
While rare, sometimes someone who is rear-ended is found partially or fully liable for the accident. This usually happens when the driver’s negligence contributed to the collision in some way. Examples may include brake lights that were not functioning and contributed to the rear driver being unable to determine the vehicle was slowing or stopped or the first driver stopping in the traffic lane with a blown tire instead of moving safely to the shoulder of the road.
In some cases, neither the first nor rear driver are liable for the accident. This can happen if road conditions led to the accident. If you are rear-ended because the driver behind you lost control of their vehicle due to a pothole, the municipality may be liable for damages, not either driver.
Another example of a less-common circumstance involves a vehicle stalling uphill and rolling backwards, colliding with the vehicle driving behind it. While the damage will be to the front of the “rear-ended” vehicle and technically be considered a head-on collision, it’s really a rear-end collision in reverse. Liability can be complicated in these cases because the first vehicle owner may be liable for failing to maintain their vehicle or the manufacturer may be at fault for faulty parts.
As a general rule, the following are the most common cases in which the rear-ended driver will be found at least partially at-fault for the accident:
- The driver had malfunctioning brake lights
- The driver stopped without warning for a turn but did not make the turn
- The driver suddenly went into reverse
- The driver got a flat tire but did not use hazard lights or pull over safely to the shoulder
Contact an Experienced LA Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been hurt in a rear-end collision, it’s vital to seek legal counsel as soon as possible if liability is not clear cut. The good news is the other driver is almost always responsible for a rear-end collision, but this is not always the case. A personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles can help you protect your rights and build your claim.