Even at low speeds, rear-end accidents can cause severe injuries that lead to long-term recovery and permanent disabilities. Many injuries that people sustain in these accidents have a delayed effect. Victims end up facing catastrophic consequences and substantial expenses.
If you’ve been in a rear-end accident, getting medical assistance is imperative. Besides helping discover injuries, a visit to an emergency room can provide evidence that may strengthen your injury case in the future. A car accident lawyer can guide you through the legal process following your accident.
Let’s take a closer look at how serious rear-end accidents are and what to do after getting into one.
How Common Are Read-End Accidents?
Around 1.7 million rear-end crashes occur in the United States every year. In these accidents, around 1,700 people die while half a million sustain injuries.
A rear-end collision is the most common type of crash on American roads. These accidents makeup around 29 percent of all types of vehicle collisions.
The most common causes of rear-end collisions are:
- Distracted driving. The driver of a rear vehicle is tuning the radio, talking on the phone, eating, or interacting with a passenger.
- Driving under the influence. When under the influence, the driver can’t make sound decisions about keeping a safe distance or braking when necessary.
- Fatigue. Many drivers sit behind the wheel without getting sufficient sleep. It often happens to truck drivers, who are trying to earn more money by driving long hours.
- Speeding. High speeds make it hard to brake if the front car suddenly stops.
- Tailgating. Failing to keep a safe distance often causes rear-end accidents.
- Aggressive driving. Road rage prevents drivers from thinking clearly and acting reasonably on the road.
In most cases, the rear driver is responsible for the accident. However, a rear-end collision doesn’t automatically mean that a certain driver is liable. In some situations, the front driver or other traffic participants are also responsible.
Figuring out who is liable for the rear-end collision can determine the course of legal action and affect the size of payouts for injured parties.
The Technical Side of Rear-End Crashes
Injuries that people sustain during rear-end crashes depend on many factors. The main one is the speed at which vehicles are traveling. However, even a seemingly minor crash could cause serious damage to all participants.
When one car hits another, the momentum of the rear vehicle transfers to the front vehicle and everyone who is inside. If the front car is idle or driving slower than the rear car, the higher momentum can cause serious injuries.
Neither car has to travel fast for the crash to cause injuries. A sudden impact of a heavy vehicle can lead to injuries, even if it’s traveling 25 mph. If a person is wearing a seatbelt, their body jerks suddenly. Both head and neck start going back and forth.
Since the impact is unexpected, a person doesn’t have an opportunity to prepare and brace for it. This causes serious consequences, including neck, brain, and back injuries.
The stronger the impact, the more injuries a person can sustain. Besides hurting your neck and spine, it’s possible to injure internal organs, which in turn cause internal bleeding. This bleeding isn’t always obvious. That’s why it’s imperative to seek medical attention right after the crash.
Rear versus Front Driver
A rear-end crash is usually more dangerous for the front driver than for the rear driver, especially when the front car is idle while the rear vehicle is moving.
If the rear driver isn’t asleep or driving under the influence, they will likely see the accident (even if it happens at the last moment). That’s why they can usually brace themselves for impact. This leads to fewer injuries.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, seat belts prevent thousands of fatalities every year. In rear-end collisions, seatbelts save lives. However, they can also contribute to injuries.
When both cars are traveling at high speeds and crash, the seatbelt keeps the driver and passengers in their seats. However, they cause the head and spine to go back and forth forcefully. While saving your life, the seatbelt can contribute to a severe spinal injury.
Airbags save around 3,000 lives per year. However, rear-end collisions also cause injuries. Airbags deploy at speeds between 100 and 220 miles per hour.
In a crash, the airbag can cause:
- Broken jaw and nose
- Eye injuries that can lead to temporary blindness
The force of impact can bring the person’s face and body too close to the airbag and causing numerous injuries. That’s still better than hitting a windshield, steering wheel, or dashboard, but it can leave you with enormous hospital bills and deep, long-lasting pain.
Common Injuries in Rear-End Crashes
The most common injury in a rear-end collision is whiplash. Whiplash is a neck injury that happens due to forceful forward and backward movements of the body.
Minor whiplash can go away with the right treatment, which includes medication, exercises, and physical therapy. The majority of patients recover within three weeks. However, some people can face long-lasting complications, including chronic neck pain.
Some other injuries that you can sustain in a rear-end crash are:
Back Strains and Sprains
Back strain occurs when you pull, twist, or tear a muscle or a tendon (tissue that connects your muscle to the bone). A back sprain happens when you stretch or tear a ligament (tissue that connects one of your bones to another).
Both of these injuries require medical attention. They cause pain and cramping while limiting your range of motion. Severe back sprains and strains could prevent you from participating in everyday activities or working.
When your head slams back and forth against the seat or dashboard, you can sustain severe head injuries, including a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Head injuries can be extremely dangerous and often require long-term treatment. Some of them are catastrophic.
These injuries lead to headaches, concussions, memory loss, and many long-term complications.
Rear-end accidents can break bones, starting with broken noses and jaws and ending with crushed extremities. Some of these bones can heal within weeks, while others require months or even years of therapy.
In a serious accident, fractured ribs could cause internal organ damage. This could lead to severe complications or even death.
Rear-end collisions can kill.
On-spot fatalities usually occur when:
- Cars are traveling at high speeds.
- Drivers and passengers aren’t wearing seatbelts.
- A large vehicle (like a truck) collides with a smaller one.
Sometimes, people who survive rear-end collisions don’t recover from their injuries and die several days or even months after the accident. This happens due to organ damage or brain injuries.
If a person dies after a rear-end collision, their family can still recover damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party. Depending on the state, only certain family members can sue for wrongful death.
What to Do After a Rear-End Collision
Any car accident can cause injuries regardless of how it happens. Even if you feel fine after the crash, problems can manifest themselves in several hours or days. That’s why it’s imperative to seek medical attention right after the accident.
While you are getting medical assistance, make sure to collect all the evidence related to your injuries. This usually includes medical bills, doctor’s reports, and prescriptions.
When you file a claim against the at-fault party’s insurance company or go to court, this evidence may prove vital to recovering fair damages.
Consult an Attorney
Many people who get rear-ended think that the rear driver’s fault is automatic. That’s why they sit tight and wait for the insurance company to pay. In reality, even the most straightforward rear-end collision may not lead to fair damage recovery.
To make sure you get the money you deserve, you need to:
- Collect extensive evidence
- Identify all at-fault parties
- Prove negligence
- Negotiate with the insurance company
In some situations, you may have to take the case to the court. This usually happens when the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured. For example, a minimal liability insurance policy in New York only covers $25,000 for bodily injury. In Boston, the amount is even lower—$20.000.
If your damages add up to a larger figure, you must sue the at-fault party directly to recover the difference. To do that, you would need to present your case to the judge. Doing this without an attorney’s assistance is complicated.
Even if you didn’t collect any evidence at the scene of the accident, the attorney could do it for you.
After you get medical attention, you need to continue collecting evidence that includes:
- Photos and videos of your injuries
- A personal journal records pain, symptoms, and reduced quality of life.
- Medical bills, reports, prescriptions
- W-2 forms, pay stubs (to file for lost wages)
- Copy of police report
Even the smallest evidence can play a big role in obtaining fair compensation. Try to collect every document related to your injuries and their impact. If you can’t find it, call a car accident lawyer and they can do this for you.
Continue Getting Treatment
Following doctors’ recommendations isn’t just important to your recovery. It can be crucial for obtaining fair compensation. If the insurance company finds out you’ve been missing appointments, it can use this against you during negotiations.
If you fail to follow doctors’ orders, the at-fault party can argue that your injuries aren’t as severe as you claim. This could reduce the compensation significantly.
Watch Filing Deadlines
If you are planning to sue the at-fault party, you only have a limited time to do so. The statute of limitations regulates how much time you have to file a lawsuit. Make sure you do it before that time is up. Otherwise, the judge can dismiss your case on the spot.
The statute of limitations differs from state to state. For example, you have three years to file a lawsuit in New York and Massachusetts, while in New Jersey, you only have two.
Recovering Damages After a Rear-End Accident
No matter how minor your rear-end accident may seem, you can still try to recover the damages. If you sustained injuries that required treatment, caused you to miss work, and reduced your quality of life, you may seek compensation.
To recover fair damages, you would have to:
- Collect evidence
- Get witness testimony
- Hire expert witnesses
- File a claim or a lawsuit
- Present a strong case to the insurance company or the judge
- Negotiate a settlement
The key to obtaining compensation from the at-fault party is proving their negligence. In rear-end collisions, such negligence isn’t always as clear as it seems.
For example, a driver may rear-end you when trying to avoid hitting a jaywalking pedestrian. In this case, the pedestrian is partially responsible for the incident. To sue these people, you must prove that they acted negligently. Both of them will work hard to prove that the other one is solely at fault.
Hiring a car accident attorney is one of the best ways to improve your chances of recovering fair compensation.
Never work on your case without legal assistance, or you may:
- Miss filing deadlines
- Fail to collect extensive evidence
- Hire the wrong expert witness
- Admit your fault (or even the possibility of your fault) to the insurance company
In most cases, insurance companies minimize the settlement by leveraging the victim’s emotional state and their need for money. To get the money you deserve, staying calm and focused during negotiations is imperative.
Speak to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
You may be entitled to compensation if you’ve been in a serious rear-end collision or suffered seemingly minor injuries. To recover damages, you need to take complicated legal actions. Doing so requires help from a personal injury lawyer, especially if you are still treating your injuries.
Working with a reliable car accident attorney can help you evaluate your possibilities, build a strong case, and avoid errors. Many car accident lawyers offer free initial consultations. Take advantage of this opportunity to figure out what to do next.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.