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Who Is at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?

May 12, 2021 Brown Moore & Associates Hit-and-Run Accident

It’s commonly believed that the rear vehicle is automatically at fault in a rear-end collision. However, establishing blame in a rear-end collision depends on the jurisdiction. Some states follow comparative negligence rules, while others follow contributory negligence rules.

In comparative negligence states, blame is apportioned between all parties involved in a collision. Each party can recover damages based on the percentage they are at fault for the crash. A jury may find the following or preceding driver guilty, and in some cases, both or neither parties can be at fault.

In contributory negligence states, drivers who are even a fraction responsible for the collision cannot receive compensation.

Most states follow comparative negligence rules, with only Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C. rulings based on contributory negligence.

When Is the Rear Driver Not at Fault?

Conventional wisdom holds that drivers have a duty to maintain a safe distance between them and the car in front of them to avoid a collision if the leading vehicle has to brake suddenly. This rule often leads police and juries to find the following vehicle at fault for the crash. However, there are occasions when the rear vehicle is not to blame for a rear-end collision.

Juries typically consider both drivers’ behavior when establishing blame. If a jury finds the preceding driver guilty of negligence, it may absolve the following driver of blame. The preceding driver may have behaved negligently by:

  • Slamming on the brakes when not safe to do so
  • Cutting the rear driver off at too close proximity
  • Merging in front of the rear vehicle but failing to maintain enough speed to avoid a collision
  • Stopping at a green light, affording the rear driver little reaction time
  • Driving erratically, causing the rear driver to collide with them
  • Suddenly reversing
  • Having broken or faulty brake lights

In some cases, the rear driver may have hit the front driver through no fault of their own; this typically occurs when either driver experiences a vehicle malfunction, such as faulty brakes, in which case, neither party is to blame.

How Do You Establish Negligence?

A driver may be considered negligent if the plaintiff can prove they exhibited irrational or unsound behavior while driving.

To establish negligence, a plaintiff must:

  • Prove the other driver owed a duty of care and failed to uphold it
  • Prove that they sustained harm such as injuries or loss
  • Prove that any injuries or damages they incurred were the direct results of the defendant’s negligence

If the plaintiff cannot prove they suffered any actual harm, they will have a hard time proving negligence. Similarly, negligence can be difficult to prove if you are the rear driver.

Who Is to Blame in a Rear-End Collision Involving Three Cars?

In collisions involving multiple vehicles, the standard rules and beliefs typically apply. If a driver is rear-ended and subsequently hits the car in front of them, the vehicle at the very back generally takes the blame. However, multiple vehicle collisions are still carefully analyzed, and comparative negligence rulings may find numerous parties at fault.