DETERMINING FAULT IN REAR-END MOTOR VEHICLE COLLISIONS



Motor vehicle collisions take place in various forms. From T-bones, to side swipes, and everything in between; the possible scenes are almost endless. One of the more frequent scenarios is a rear-end motor vehicle collision. Often associated with rear-end collision is the presumption that the driver who committed the rear-ending is at fault. However, that is not always conclusive. This article aims to clarify why, and under what context, the rear-ending driver may not always be the party to blame.

Negligence and Motor Vehicle Collisions


Negligence is a concept attributed to the conduct of an individual whom fails to adhere to an established standard of care. In short, one’s conduct is deemed to be negligent should said conduct not adhere to what would be expected out of a reasonable person under the same set of circumstances under which the accident took place.

In order to prove negligence, one must first establish the existence of a duty. Simply put, each and every driver on the roads owes each and every other driver on the road the duty to act with care in the operation of a motor vehicle. Additionally, one must establish that the other driver did not comply with that duty effectively breaching their duty. The breach of the duty of reasonable care when operating a motor vehicle takes many forms:

- Failure to keep a lookout;

- Failure to control speed;

- Failure to signal lane change;

- Failure to drive at a reasonable speed, based on either the posted speed limit or on driving conditions;

- Failure to maintain a single marked lane of traffic;

- Failure to yield the right of way;

- Following too close.


Moreover, you must also establish that the other driver breaching their duty of reasonable care caused the accident at hand. Lastly, you must prove your actual damages. Actual damages basically include bodily injury and property damage but can also include lost wages. Actual damages are basically anything you have a receipt for or can use evidence to show a dollar value associate to the loss.

Proving Fault in Rear-End Accidents

The driver who commits the rear-ending of the lead vehicle is almost universally found to be at the very least partially negligent. Each and every driver has the duty to maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles on the road. The reason being is that drivers occasionally need to stop or slow down suddenly and for unexpected reasons such as traffic build-up, road hazards, or other motor vehicle collisions. The duty to maintain a safe following distance is expected of drivers in order to help prevent motor vehicle collisions should and sudden and unexpected stop occur.

Alternately, the lead driver in a rear-end collision may be found negligent. Below are a few contexts under which the lead driver may be negligent:

- If the lead driver reverses into the collision;

- If the lead driver is driving on a flat tire;

- If the lead vehicle does not have working brake lights; and

- If the lead driver comes to a sudden stop in attempts to make a turn but does not turn.

In each of these contexts, the lead driver that gets rear-ended would likely be negligent. The legal significance of the lead driver’s negligence is dependent on how much said negligence contributed to the motor vehicle collision, and how your civil jurisdiction deals with motor vehicle accidents where there is more than one at-fault party.

Contributary vs. Comparative

In situations where there is more than one single at-fault driver involved in a motor vehicle collision, results vary between the states. Several states still use the cruel system of “Contributory” negligence, however most follow a system of “Comparative” negligence. The differences between these systems of negligence are described below:

Contributory Negligence: A few states still follow this model. Basically, under this system, if Driver One establishes that Driver Two’s negligence contributed to the motor vehicle collision at any capacity, then Driver Two is prevented from recovering any compensation at all in a lawsuit against Driver One.
Comparative Negligence: Comparative distributes fault amongst the drivers. A motorist’s liability may be reduced, but not fully excused, if the other motorist is partly to blame for the accident. This system has two variations:
- Pure comparative negligence: Liability is divided pursuant to the percentage of fault for each driver. So, if one is 25% responsible for the collision having taken place then that person may only collect 75% of her damages.
- Modified comparative negligence: Liability is divided according to the percentage of fault up to a certain percentage. Once the plaintiff hits that percentage, or exceeds that percentage, then that plaintiff is barred from recovering damages. The limiting percentage is usually 50%. So, if one is 50% or more at fault for the collision, then that plaintiff would be barred from recovering any damages from the other party.

Contributory Negligence

A few states still follow this model. Basically, under this system, if Driver One establishes that Driver Two’s negligence contributed to the motor vehicle collision at any capacity, then Driver Two is prevented from recovering any compensation at all in a lawsuit against Driver One.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative distributes fault among the drivers. A motorist’s liability may be reduced, but not fully excused, if the other motorist is partly to blame for the accident. This system has two variations:

- Pure comparative negligence: Liability is divided pursuant to the percentage of fault for each driver. So, if one is 25% responsible for the collision having taken place then that person may only collect 75% of her damages.
- Modified comparative negligence: Liability is divided according to the percentage of fault up to a certain percentage. Once the plaintiff hits that percentage, or exceeds that percentage, then that plaintiff is barred from recovering damages. The limiting percentage is usually 50%. So, if one is 50% or more at fault for the collision, then that plaintiff would be barred from recovering any damages from the other party.

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