Rear end accidents are assumed to be a "slam dunk" in the personal injury world. In 2007, rear-end crashes accounted for 29 percent of auto accidents nationally making them the most common type of traffic collision (access Traffic Safety Facts sheet here). There is no doubt that with that dubious honor, they also generate a high number of accident injuries. That is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dedicates substantial resources to isolating the causes of rear-end crashes and finding ways to prevent them.
However, while there appears to be an obvious presumption of negligence in rear-end crashes, fault can vary due to the circumstances of a crash making comparative negligence an issue even these supposedly cut-and-dry cases. This overview reviews the common causes of rear-end crashes and how New York law determines liability and damages. Even if you feel your case is straight-forward, this information should encourage you to document your facts just as carefully as with any other accident.
Causes of Rear End Accidents
Rear end accidents arise from a number of common issues including:
- Distracted driving
- Tailgating (following too closely)
- Hazardous weather conditions
- Excessive speed
- Driver impairment
While these are the most easily identifiable causes, research reveals other possibilities. The NHTSA performed a long study on the responsiveness of brake light indicators and whether improving them would reduce crashes and fatalities. The role of anti-lock brakes and other technology also receives substantial investigation.
While these studies could plausibly reduce the likelihood of rear-end crashes or even reduce their damage, other avenues focus more on human behavior. With the introduction of portable personal technology, distracted driving campaigns are very common. Many states, including New York, work to bring awareness so people reconsider technology use while driving. Besides education campaigns, there are enforcement measures too. One result includes laws making cell phone usage and texting while driving illegal and subject to fines.
In any case, all rear-end accidents have one element in common: They all result from negligence. Just as with any other type of crash, the fact that it occurred is proof positive that a driver acted carelessly. When claims on rear-end accidents get filed, fault will be examined thoroughly before determining damages. There is no presumption followed until this investigation is complete. This often surprises clients but it is an unfortunate reality.
Determining Accident Fault
In most rear-end accidents, fault is readily apparent. A driver becomes distracted; skids on ice; follows too closely, etc. and crashes into another car. The second driver may have been proceeding undisturbed or was already stopped at a sign or light. It is easy to assess liability in these cases because there are few other scenarios other than the colliding driver was not careful.
However, other circumstances give rise to New York’s comparative negligence statute. Under this law, if you are determined to have a role in the accident, your recovery is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you by a judge or jury. In rear-end collisions this can arise if you stop suddenly without a good reason or if you were impeding traffic in other ways that made it possible for another driver to avoid you. This can be especially damaging to your case if you do this on a busy road or highway where sudden stopping or disruption to traffic is especially dangerous.
Rear End Accident Settlements
The following example shows how comparative or contributory negligence could work in a rear-end case. Let’s suppose that you are driving on a side street when a cat darts out in front of you. Being a friend of felines, you slam on your brakes and the car behind you collides with your rear bumper. The case makes it all the way to a jury trial. During fact-finding, the jury may discover that there was plenty of space to swerve and avoid hitting the cat without engaging your brakes suddenly. However, they may also determine that the other driver was following too closely as well.
Using this information, a jury may decide to assign fault to you at 20 percent and the other driver at 80 percent. Those percentages will affect your settlement. If your total damages are assessed at $100,000, the statute will reduce that total by $20,000, giving you a settlement of $80,000.
Therefore, it is important to know that just because you are rear-ended does not mean the insurance company will immediately roll over and assume their driver is the one completely at fault. Your accident will be investigated and conclusions may not come in your favor. With that possibility, you need a trusted Bronx accident lawyer.
Attorney Ivan M. Diamond has diverse experience representing people in many types of car accidents. If you are injured in rear-end collision, Contact Us at 877-960-1702 so we can start reviewing your case.