Who Is at Fault in a Rear End Collision?

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California is notorious for its heavy traffic congestion. With busy highways and bumper-to-bumper traffic comes an increase in rear-end collisions. Rear-end collisions can occur when the following driver is not paying enough attention, or if the leading driver does not have working brake lights. Common injuries from rear-end collisions include whiplash and back injuries. In California, victims of rear-end accidents have to determine the at-fault driver before filing an auto insurance claim.

California’s Tort-Based Insurance System

In a no-fault state such as Florida or New York, it may not matter who is at fault for a rear-end collision. In no-fault states, injured drivers seek recovery from their own insurance companies, regardless of fault for the accident. California, however, is a tort-based insurance state. Drivers must identify the at-fault party, and then seek recovery through that person’s insurer. Determining fault, therefore, will be one of your first objectives as the victim of a rear-end collision in California.

California Traffic Rules

According to the California Driver Handbook, it is a driver’s responsibility to maintain an adequate amount of space between his or her vehicle and others on the roadway. This involves scanning one’s surroundings and always keeping enough space on all sides of the vehicle. It is against the law to tailgate another driver, or to drive too closely to the rear of another vehicle. Tailgating is a common traffic infraction in heavy congestion, especially if the rear driver is speeding, in a hurry, or angry.

Tailgating could lead to a driver’s liability for a rear-end collision if it causes or contributes to the crash. The rear driver should always leave enough space to hit the brakes or maneuver to avoid hitting the back of the front vehicle, if necessary. The general rule of thumb is to leave at least one car length of space for every 10 mph in between vehicles. A negligent failure to leave this space will point to that driver’s responsibility for damages. For this reason, most rear-end collisions come down to the rear driver’s fault. Exceptions to the rule, however, exist.

When Is the Front Driver at Fault?

It is possible to have a rear-end collision case in which the front driver bears responsibility for damages. Although less common than the rear driver bearing liability, the front driver could be at fault if he or she negligently caused the crash. This could be the case if the front driver made an unsafe lane change without leaving enough space to give the rear driver time to brake. Abruptly cutting the rear driver off and hitting the brakes could lead to front driver liability.

Another situation in which the front driver could be liable is if he or she negligently failed to maintain the vehicle, resulting in malfunctioning brake lights. It is every driver’s responsibility to adequately maintain his or her vehicle – including ensuring properly functioning lights. Lack of brake lights could make it impossible to tell the vehicle is stopping, leading to the rear driver colliding with the back of the front vehicle. If a reasonable and prudent driver would not have been able to avoid a rear-end collision, the front driver may bear responsibility.

Proving Fault for a Rear-End Collision

To obtain a financial award for your damages after a rear-end collision in California, you will need to prove the other driver’s fault. This may take hiring investigators to gather evidence against the other driver, if available. A third party may also share liability for your accident. The owner of an unsafe or poorly designed parking lot, for example, could be at fault if the layout of the parking lot contributed to your rear-end collision. Hiring a personal injury law firm to investigate your case could help you identify the liable parties. A knowledgable Long Beach car accident attorney could also help you prove your case and obtain a fair recovery.