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The Reality of Rear-End Collisions

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end crashes comprise one  third of all car crashes and are the most common type of automotive collision in the United States.  Approximately 1.7 million rear-end collisions take place in the United States each year where there are 1,700 fatalities and another 500,000 people are injured.  These numbers constitute a significant portion of highway accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

The status of rear-end collisions as the most common type of traffic accident has prompted government, researchers and engineers to study rear-end crashes to learn more about how to prevent them.  Research focusing on rear-end collisions include specifics about driver characteristics and the environment in which rear-end crashes occur.  These include:

  • Drivers under the age of 18 are most likely to cause a rear-end collision and as a driver matures, the chances of a rear-end collision decreases.
  • Young males are more likely to strike another vehicle than females are
  • More than 85 percent of rear-end crashes occur as a result of distracted driving.  The NHTSA warns that eating, drinking and using cell phones in the vehicle are the most common distractions that lead to rear-end collisions. Other common driver distractions include checking mirrors, reaching for things in the backseat or on the floor, and personal grooming.
  • It is commonly known that most rear-end collisions occur because the rear vehicle is following the lead too closely. Yet, the NHTSA reports that in the majority of rear-end accidents, drivers in the rear maintain a safe following distance behind the car in front of them.
  • Most rear-end collisions happen when the lead vehicle is stopped or in heavy traffic.
  • Most-rear-end collisions take place when weather conditions are clear.

The NHTSA found that over 80% of all rear-end crashes occurred due to driver distraction.  Drivers are notorious for looking at their phones, lighting a cigarette, applying makeup or other non-essential activities while driving. Although the majority of the aforementioned behaviors may be legal, it does not mean they are safe. These are the type of distractive behaviors that cause serious motor vehicle crash injuries and mortalities every day.

Speed is also one of the most widely known contributing factors to many rear-end crashes. When a motorist uses excessive speed, he or she may not be able to stop suddenly. Inclement weather also may increase the likelihood of rear-end crashes. When the roads are wet with rain, snow, or ice it may be unsafe to travel the posted speed limit. Unfortunately, motorists fail to put safety first and this lack of  judgement endangers the lives of innocent motorists.

Speeding is a common form of aggressive driving behavior. Several factors contribute to this form of driving:

Traffic Jams

Traffic congestion often puts motorists under duress and is one of the most widely known contributing factors to speeding.  Motorists often respond to stress on the road with aggressive driving.  Some of these behaviors include, speeding, changing lanes frequently, or becoming angry at anyone who they believe impedes their progress. 

Running Behind Schedule

Some people drive aggressively because they have too much to do and are “running late” for work, school, their next meeting, lesson, soccer game, or other appointment.

Disregard for Fellow Motorists

The majority of motorists in New York State do not drive aggressively.   However, there is a small percentage of motorists who drive aggressively on a regular basis. Occasional episodes of speeding and changing lanes abruptly may occur in response to random situations, but it should not be part of a driver’s normal behavior.

Since there are many more drivers on the road, there are many more cases of aggressive behavior on the road now than in the past.  Motorists that use excessive speed not only put themselves in harm’s way, they also affect other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.   If you should encounter a motorist employing excessive speed, here are some suggestions as to what to do:

  • If someone wants to pass you, move over and let them go
  • Allow plenty of space for speeding drivers as they may lose control of their vehicle more easily.
  • Adjust your driving as necessary especially if a speeding driver is tailgating you and use judgment to safely steer your vehicle out of the way.

How to Avoid A Rear-End Accident?

We all know that you cannot control if you are involved in a rear-end collision.  However, you can take steps to avoid rear-ending another vehicle.

  • Keep at least a four-second space between you and the car in front of you,  giving you enough time and distance to react if they must suddenly stop.
  • Avoid all distractions while driving, such as cell phone use and adjusting the radio
  • Make sure you use turn signals and break properly to let the drivers behind you know your intentions.
  • Scan your rear-view mirror to watch cars behind you, especially before you slow down or make a turn.
  • If someone is following you too closely, pull to the side and let them pass.
  • When it’s raining, increase your following distance because of wet roads.
  • Make sure your brakes are functioning well.
  • Don’t slam on your brakes at the last minute.

Common Injuries that Result from Rear- End Crashes

Many people believe that rear-end accidents are not dangerous, but unfortunately, life threatening injuries do occur. Many people feel the effects for months or years afterward. The following are some common injuries that can affect you after a rear-end crash:

Neck Injuries

Whiplash is the most commonly associated injury associated with rear-end accidents. This can involve several types of injuries to the soft tissue in the neck.  Rear-end accidents can cause a person’s head to move violently and results in injuries that cause pain, stiffness, and limited neck movement. Many neck injuries require physical therapy and time away from usual activities or work.

Back Injuries

The back consists of many muscles and joints that can be easily injured.  Since most bodily movements involve the use of the back, back injuries can be debilitating. People with serious back injuries often must take time off work to heal.  If physical therapy cannot resolve the pain and damage, back surgery may be needed.

Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries, better known as TBIs, often occur when accident victims violently hit their heads. Just a jolt of the head can cause damage to the brain!  Many rear-end accidents result in some degree of concussion or more serious TBIs, which can have lasting cognitive and physical effects.

Spinal Injuries

The spinal cord is a vital part of the body that helps to facilitate movement, sensory capabilities, and organ functioning. The spinal tissue can easily be damaged if any discs are compressed or otherwise out of place. In many cases, spinal cord injuries can cause temporary or permanent paralysis.

Broken Bones

Many different bones can fracture or break as a result of a rear-end accident. An airbag can break bones in the face, hands, or arms or legs and knees can also break from impact with the dashboard. Some broken bones heal relatively easily while others require extensive treatments and leave lasting effects.  Some compound bone fractures can require extensive surgery and long recovery. Even with treatment, some victims of compound fractures never regain their usual ranges of motion or remain pain-free.

Who’s at Fault?

The motorist in the rear-most vehicle is usually at fault, but there are exceptions, and even when those don’t apply, both drivers may be able to recover compensation.

With all the traffic and roadway congestion, motorists in the New York State have developed a tendency to tailgate.   Accidents that are a result of tailgating happen so much that state courts have developed a guideline for determining liability in a rear-end accident. We have all heard the following phrase from fellow motorists “the car in the back is always at fault.”

The General Rule: The Rear Vehicle Is Liable

The courts of New York have created a precedent that, when a stopped car or one that is coming to a stop is hit from the rear by another vehicle, the person driving the striking vehicle is at fault for the collision.

Commonly, in rear-end collision cases, courts presume the rear driver was negligent and is therefore liable for the damages.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule.

The Exception to the Rule: Non-Negligent Collision

One must persuade the court that there was a non-negligent reason for the collision.

Most rear drivers feel they are not a fault, but the courts have a limited scope of what they consider non negligent when it comes to rear end crashes.  New York law requires drivers to maintain a motorist to leave a safe following distance from the cars in front of them.  Since the designated distance is out of the front driver’s control, the responsibility falls on the rear driver.

If the rear driver can demonstrate that an unforeseeable situation necessitated a shorter following distance, the drive may be able to avoid accident liability.    If the rear driver has to speed up due to an unforeseen circumstance (i.e. another car veering into their lane), the court may agree that there was a non-negligent reason for collision.

What If the Vehicle in Front Stopped Suddenly?

Everyone can relate to this situation.  You are driving on a local highway, obeying the speed limit and maintaining a safe following distance.   All of a sudden, the car in front of you slams on its brakes for an unknown reason.   Most people would say this is seems like negligence on the part of the brakes-slamming car, right? Well,  the New York Courts see this a bit differently.   As previously mentioned, the rear driver is expected to maintain enough following distance that he or she is able to stop even if the car ahead of them suddenly stops.   Unfortunately, failure to do so is negligence on the part of the rear driver.

What About Multi-Car Accidents?

The same rule of liability extends to multi-car pileups.  Absent a non-negligent reason for collision, the rear-most driver will be presumed liable for the damages.  These type of accidents are different due to the fact that the other drivers might also be liable for their own negligence.  A good example would be if you were  driving behind two cars and were too close to the car in front of you and the middle driver was also too close to the lead car. If you strike the middle car, you will be presumed liable for that person’s damages.  If the middle car then hits the lead car, you may be able to avoid liability for at least some portion of the lead driver’s damages, because the middle driver was also negligent.

What to Do After a Rear-End Collision

We have all personally experienced or have known someone who has experienced a rear-end collision.  In order to be prepared for the future, see below for the information on what to do after a rear-end collision:

  • Call 911 if your rear-end collision is more than a bump in a parking lot, so law enforcement, first responders, and ambulances come to the scene of the accident.
  • Accept medical treatment at the scene or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. Drivers involved in rear-end collisions sometimes refuse medical treatment because they can walk away from the accident. The injuries discussed above sometimes take hours or days to show symptoms. Additionally, an accident is a traumatic event that typically releases adrenaline throughout the body. Adrenaline masks pain. Even if you do not feel pain, you still could have suffered an injury. A doctor can examine you for common accident injuries and document any findings in your medical record, which could help support an insurance claim and potential car accident lawsuit.
  • Get information from the driver who rear-ended you. Record the make, model, and license plate number from the vehicle that hit you. You should also get the other driver’s name, contact information, and insurance information. The police will also get this information, but sometimes they arrive late to the scene, or they make an error in the official crash report. When you gather the information yourself, you can cross-check it with law enforcement’s record of the accident.
  • Use your cell phone to take pictures at the scene of the accident. Take photos of the damage to the rear of your vehicle and the front of the other driver’s vehicle. Also, take photos of any visible injuries and anything else you think might be relevant to your claim. Photographic evidence makes it more difficult for the driver, his or her insurance carrier, or another legal team to deny the accident occurred.
  • File an insurance claim under yourpersonal injury protection (PIP) policy, if you have one. Even when the other driver is clearly at fault, your PIP coverage will kick in to cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages, up to your policy limit. You might want an automotive accident lawyer to handle your PIP claim, however, to make sure it pays the benefits you deserve.
  • Contact an experienced car accident lawyer. PIP insurance does not compensate you for the non-economic ways that your injuries have impacted your life (such as pain and suffering or a reduced quality of life). A skilled attorney could help you file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company once you have exhausted your PIP limits, negotiate the claim, guide you through the settlement process, and litigate your case in court when settlement is not an option.
  • Only communicate about the accident with your lawyer. Friends and family who are concerned about you and the outcome of your claim will likely show interest in the details of your rear-end collision and your case. Although it might be tempting to share, it is better to remain silent about these things until your claim is resolved. Insurance adjusters and defense legal teams will do everything possible to devalue your claim, including interviewing your loved ones. They might use something you say, or something a loved one says, against you. This can negatively impact the outcome of your case.
  • Do not post on social media until your rear-end accident claim concludes. Insurance adjusters and investigators will also try to get access to any social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Even posts not-related to your accident and injuries can hurt your case. For example, if you post pictures of a family vacation, the insurance company or other legal team might argue you are healing better than expected, so you do not deserve as much compensation.

 

Liability in Rear-End Collisions

Proving fault and placing blame after a traffic accident is not always an easy task for insurance adjusters, lawyers, and investigations. Yet, rear-end collisions are typically much clearer than other accident cases with regard to liability. Typically, in rear-end collisions, the driver in the rear vehicle will be financially liable for damages related to injuries from the accident. Insurance companies and defense legal teams will likely question this assumption and do what they can to undermine it.

The insurance company and/or their legal team might use one or more of the following tactics to avoid financial responsibility or reduce the payout:

  • Show that you were driving erratically or making sudden movements, and the other driver could not avoid the collision.
  • Prove that you were distracted while driving (using your phone, eating, adjusting your seat, etc.).
  • Argue that you were driving aggressivelyand hit your brakes to cause a collision.
  • Suggest you violated one or more traffic regulations.
  • Imply you were using drugs or were under the influence of alcohol.
  • Show that you had a preexisting injury and the accident did not cause your injury.
  • Deny the alleged at-fault driver was not actually the person driving the vehicle that hit you.

If the insurance company proves that you are partially at fault for a rear-end collision, you could still collect damage under the law.

The most common damages included in a settlement or jury award include:

  • Medical treatment costs, including your initial emergency room visit, hospitalization, diagnostic imaging, surgery and associated costs, and follow-up visits. In the most severe rear-end collision cases, this can include estimated future costs.
  • Lost wages and benefits due to taking time off of work for injury, hospitalization, and rehabilitation.
  • Rehabilitation costs for physical therapy and other medically necessary specialized treatment.
  • Physical pain and sufferingfor your injuries.
  • Emotional pain and suffering.
  • Reduced quality of life.
  • Loss of consortium if applicable.

Suffering injuries in a rear-end collision can devastate accident victims and their families.  F&P prides itself on being an advocate for clients who have experienced an any type of automotive accident.  Our firm recently settled a case on behalf of a client who was rear-ended in Wappingers Falls. A reckless driver failed to notice a red light and slammed into our client’s vehicle and another vehicle. If the driver that caused the car crash was focused on the road and had not been speeding, it is likely the entire crash could have been avoided.

Our Personal Injury client, a middle aged New York State resident was involved in a rear-end  automotive accident and suffered from whiplash, lower back injuries and a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her injuries caused a great deal of pain and other symptoms, including radiating pain, limited mobility, and memory/concentration issues.   Our personal injury attorneys secured a settlement of $250,000.

Another client was catastrophically injured when the vehicle he was traveling in, which was stopped at a red light, was rear-ended. As a result of the impact, he was paralyzed from the neck down and will never walk again. Our team of personal injury attorneys secured a $5.5 million dollar settlement for the client.

Click here to continue reading about this case and other recent case results.

If you or a loved one have been hurt by a reckless driver or in a rear end crash contact us today.