Rear-end collisions are extremely common in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that crashes from behind make up almost 30 percent of all traffic accidents in the nation. These incidents can occur in stop-and-go traffic, at intersections, or even in parking lots. The majority of drivers simply assume that whoever hit another car from behind is at fault, no questions asked.
But this isn’t always the case. When is a rear-end collision not your fault? You may be surprised to find that there are some situations where the accident was unavoidable even though you were driving safely. Consulting with a car accident lawyer may show you that you have options to show that the front vehicle was actually at fault.
Liability is Often Assumed but not Guaranteed
The state of California does not automatically impose liability on the driver who hits another car from behind. In multi-car accidents, drivers are often pushed from behind as other cars slam on their brakes to avoid a collision. You may have stopped safely, but the person behind you doesn’t and shoves your car into the one in front of you.
Other instances are when another driver cuts you off or brakes unexpectedly to avoid a dangerous situation, such as a third car running a red light. It can be difficult from your point of view to see everything that contributed to the crash. That’s when a skilled car accident attorney and their team can assist. You will need evidence to understand exactly what happened and clear your name of liability.
Other ways a front vehicle driver could be held responsible for their rear-end crash is by having a broken taillight or brake lights that don’t work. If their brakes are not working properly, you could misjudge the safe distance needed to avoid a crash. If they are driving distractedly or under the influence of a substance, they could easily put others at risk of colliding with their rear end.
California’s Comparative Negligence
For a plaintiff to win damages, they must show negligence on the part of the defendant. When you are the defendant in a rear-end crash, you and your lawyer must fight back to demonstrate that the plaintiff contributed to the crash. This may not get you completely free from paying damages, but it can certainly work to reduce the liability you will face.
California’s comparative negligence law allows injured parties to recover damages even if they are partially at fault. However, their jury award will be reduced by the amount they are found liable. This means if they are found 30% at fault for a crash, they will receive 30% less than they requested. If you can show their responsibility is higher, you can reduce what you may have to pay by that percentage.
Proving That It Wasn’t All Your Fault
As previously mentioned, front vehicle drivers can be mostly or completely responsible for rear-end collisions in certain circumstances. Usually, unsafe lane changes or reckless driving can contribute to these accidents. You will need solid evidence to demonstrate to the court that you did not cause the crash.
Your legal counsel will put their team to work gathering documentation such as:
- Traffic camera videos
- Dashcam video from cars in the area during the crash
- Witness statements
- Photos of the crash scene, weather conditions, and vehicle damage
- Accident investigation reports from an independent investigator
- Police accident reports
- Medical reports from all drivers’ injuries
- Auto repair shop estimates
You might be able to gather some of this material yourself, but it can take time and money that you may not have. Using a professional legal team could help you take thousands of dollars off an insurance settlement or jury trial award.
Defending Yourself in a Rear-End Collision Lawsuit
You can begin defending yourself immediately after the accident by following some simple steps to protect your rights. You also want to avoid inadvertently establishing any liability. After the crash is over, follow these steps:
- Obtain medical assistance.
- Don’t admit any guilt to anyone, including any passengers riding with you.
- Don’t apologize to the other driver.
- Don’t speak to anyone except to share contact details, accept medical assistance, or relay minimal information to the police.
- Don’t discuss your injuries or play them down with anyone at the scene.
- Contact a car accident lawyer as quickly as possible.
- Don’t speak with anyone about the accident besides your lawyer.
- Don’t speak to your insurance company without your lawyer.
- Don’t post on social media about the accident or share details with anyone who might post.
While you may not absolve yourself entirely of any liability from the crash, these recommendations are a good roadmap to reducing the plaintiff’s ability to claim you are fully at fault. Once you have gathered the evidence supporting your rebuttal arguments against your responsibility, you have the potential to reduce your liability and the damages you will pay.
Don’t Just Accept Fault if You Didn’t Cause the Accident
Many people give up and assume they will be held liable and have to pay. However, don’t just accept fault if you are not to blame. Both you and the other driver will need to prove negligence on the other’s part.
Negligence is critical to establish grounds for receiving damages. The other driver will try to show that your actions meet the four elements of negligence:
- You owed a duty of care to other drivers.
- Your actions breached that duty.
- The plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of your actions.
- The plaintiff incurred expenses from their injuries.
Even as they are attempting to show you are at fault, you and your attorney will work to rebut that liability and show that the plaintiff also displayed negligence. You should fight back to avoid financial distress from paying for both your injuries and those of the plaintiff.
When it’s not your fault, don’t take the punishment. Aggressively defend yourself during the lawsuit or consider a countersuit to obtain the reimbursement you deserve for your injuries and property damage. When the front-end driver is to blame, let a legal expert guide you on how to push back and see that justice is served.