In short, the at-fault driver pays for the rear-end collision. Many believe the rear driver is always at fault, but that isn’t always the case. In some circumstances, the front driver can be at fault. After a rear-end crash, you could collect compensation for injuries and losses as long as you are not at fault. An experienced New York car accident lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal process and ensure your rights are protected
Causes of Rear-End Accidents
Many factors cause rear-end accidents. In some cases, the rear driver is at fault. In others, neither driver is at fault.
Common causes of rear-end wrecks include:
- Sliding on ice.
- The vehicle malfunctions.
- The vehicle slides on debris in the road, such as sand or rock.
- The weather.
- A third vehicle pushes a driver into the front driver.
In any rear-end accident, the rear driver, front driver, or third party could have partial responsibility for the accident.
When the Front Driver Is at Fault
An investigator often must investigate the accident scene to determine if one or both drivers erred. For example, if the front driver turned without using their signals, they are most likely at fault. However, the rear driver may have been following too closely. In that case, both drivers would share responsibility for the wreck.
However, if the front driver stops in the middle of the road for no apparent reason or the front driver’s brake lights are broken, investigators could find that the front driver is wholly at fault. Additionally, if the front driver “brake checks” the rear driver, the front driver is responsible for accident injuries and other damages.
When the Rear Driver Is at Fault
Police and investigators almost always find that the rear driver is at least partially at fault if they are following too closely, driving under the influence, driving distracted, or driving recklessly.
Even if it looks as though the rear driver is at fault, sometimes, the accident is a true accident. The investigators will determine whether anyone did anything wrong or if someone or something else’s negligence caused the accident.
Determining Negligence After a Car Accident
When the police or investigators review the accident, they check for several factors that might lead to negligence, such as debris on the road, non-working lights, skid marks, other drivers’ behavior, and more.
The amount of damage to both vehicles, skid marks and other road damage, witnesses, and several other factors often give enough cues to determine who should hold responsibility for the accident.
To determine negligence, you and your attorney must prove that:
- The defendant owed a duty of care. Every driver owes other drivers on the road a duty of care to drive safely to avoid causing accidents through reckless or illegal driving.
- The defendant breached the duty of care. The at-fault driver may have breached the duty by driving under the influence, driving recklessly, breaking driving laws, or otherwise driving without care for others on the road.
- The defendant’s breach caused your accident.
- You suffered injuries, losses, or other damages directly from the defendant’s behavior.
A driver can breach the reasonable duty of care by not:
- Paying attention to the road and watching for danger.
- Driving at a safe speed. A safe speed is not always the posted speed limit. For example, if the speed limit is 55 miles per hour, but snow is sticking to the road, drivers may need to slow down considerably.
- Braking within a reasonable time.
- Tailgating or following too closely.
- Yielding the right of way.
- Keeping control of the vehicle.
- Using turn signals.
- Ensuring all lights, including brake lights and turn signals, are working properly.
What to Do After a Rear-End Wreck
If possible, you should take certain steps after any accident, including a rear-end accident.
If you can move around without causing additional injury to yourself:
- Call first responders and check on others involved in the accident.
- Take photos of the accident scene. Be sure to take pictures from all angles, including the undamaged side of the vehicle.
- If either vehicle left skidmarks or otherwise damaged the road or nearby property, including photos of the damage.
- Obtain contact information from witnesses. You can also ask witnesses what they saw.
- Obtain the other driver’s license, contact, insurance, and registration information. You can snap a picture of the documents and the license plate.
- Give your version of the events leading up to the accident to the police.
- Allow emergency medical technicians to check you over.
Once the police release you from the scene, seek medical attention immediately. Some injuries do not manifest for hours or even days later. Let the medical professionals know you were in a rear-end crash and that you need a full checkup, including tests to ensure you do not have a head, neck, and shoulder injuries or internal injuries.
Finally, contact a New York car accident lawyer to help you file a claim and recover damages.
Do I Need a Car Accident Attorney After a Rear-End Accident?
While some people try to settle their claims themselves, most attorney’s don’t recommend that, as you most likely won’t receive a fair and reasonable settlement. Most attorney’s recommend you avoid speaking with the insurance company at all. Instead, contact a New York car accident lawyer and let the lawyer file your claim and handle communication with the insurer.
Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. Every claim they pay out decreases their profits. Thus, they will always look for ways to reduce or deny a claim. Barring that, they will offer you a pittance. One “trick” insurance companies use is to get you to talk about the accident. Then, the insurance company twists what you say to make the accident look like it is fully or partially your fault so they can deny the claim or pay less.
Another trick insurance companies often use is that they admit their client is guilty. However, they tell you that they can only pay a certain amount, which is often untrue. They use this tactic to get you to accept a lower amount, thinking it is the best the insurer can do.
When you work with an attorney, the insurance company is less likely to try their little tricks as they know that car accident lawyers not only know these tricks but also know the law.
Do I Have to Go to Court?
Not necessarily. Most accident cases settle out of court. However, if an insurance company refuses a fair and reasonable settlement, you may have to file a court case. That still doesn’t mean your case will make it to court.
Litigating a case is very expensive. The insurance company does not want to pay all that money only to have the court order it to pay you an award. The insurance company often realizes that the court could order a higher amount than what you believe is fair and reasonable.
Additionally, the insurance company not only has to pay its lawyers, but it also has to pay yours if it loses—and that is where some cases get very expensive for insurance companies.
An insurer can ask to re-open settlement negotiations right up until the date of the trial, though it often makes sense to settle before the attorneys have put in substantial work for trial.
What Do I Do if I Can’t Afford a Car Accident Lawyer in New York?
Attorney’s initial case evaluations should always be free and without obligation. Paying an attorney is difficult while you are out of work, trying to save your house, and putting food on the table.
Most attorney’s represent car accident victims on a contingency basis. That means you do not pay us unless they win your case. And, if they win, attorneys’ fees and costs come from the settlement or award you recover.
How a New York Car Accident Lawyer Pays Rear-End Victims
Once you win a settlement or a trial award, one of the attorneys will draft a settlement agreement or final judgment—usually the defendant’s attorney. They forward the document to our office for review. Once your attorney reviews the document, it’s forwarded to you for your review—or you come into the office to review it, whichever is more convenient.
If everything looks correct, you sign and notarize the settlement agreement. In the case of a final judgment, both attorneys review it to ensure it has everything the judge ordered. The attorney forwards the signed settlement agreement to the insurance company to process.
The insurance company’s attorney forwards proposed final judgments to the judge’s office for the court’s review and signature.
Once the court files the documents, the insurance company forwards the check to your attorney. Once the check clears—which can take up to 14 days, the attorney pays any outstanding medical expenses and reimburses your health and auto insurance if you used them to cover expenses while waiting for your settlement or trial award. The attorney deducts their fees and expenses from the check and then forwards you the balance.
Rear-End Accident Injuries
The injuries you could suffer in a rear-end accident depend on the accident’s severity. If a big rig rear-ends you, you could have catastrophic injuries, whereas if a motorcycle rear-ends you, your injuries might be relatively minor.
Accident injuries might include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, and scratches.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and other crush injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries, including whiplash.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Road rash if the impact throws you from the vehicle.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
You could also suffer from secondary injuries, such as infections of open wounds, or the accident could exacerbate an existing illness or injury. In either case, the defendant is responsible for those injuries, as you would not have suffered them if not for the defendant’s negligence.
Recovering Damages After a Rear-End Accident
Most people recover compensatory damages in the form of economic damages after an accident. If the accident injuries are catastrophic or if you lost a loved one in the accident, you could also recover non-economic damages. Economic damages have a monetary value, while non-economic damages do not.
Economic damages include:
- Medical expenses.
- Lost wages.
- Loss of future earning capacity.
- Replacement or repair of personal property, including vehicles and anything of value, damaged or destroyed in the wreck.
- Death-related expenses, including funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court expenses, and probate attorneys’ fees and costs.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make lifetime changes, such as taking medications or using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or attend family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or arm.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight or bladder control.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do your usual chores, including grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home maintenance and repair.
- Disfigurement or excessive scarring.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
Contact a New York personal injury lawyer for a free case evaluation if you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a rear-end accident. No matter if you believe you were partially at fault, an attorney can help you recover the compensation you deserve for someone else’s negligence.
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.