Rear-End Auto Accident Guide: Comprehensive Legal Overview For Hit From Behind Vehicle Collision Events

Rear-End Car Accidents: Legal Overview (And Why It Matters)

Been in a rear-end accident?

If not recently, at some in your driving life you will probably be involved in a car accident.

Were You Injured?


    Head-on collisions, high-speed collisions, hitting a parked car, a pedestrian crash, hydroplaning and rear-end collisions are all a risk when you share the roads.

    The most common, however, of all motor vehicle accidents are rear-end collisions. While a number of contributory causes can lead to a collision, the majority of rear strikes are caused by tailgating drivers.

    How fault, negligence, insurance claims, legal action, the litigation process and compensation works after a crash strictly depends on the details of the accident and where it happened. Tort law, State laws, traffic codes, jurisdiction can play a critical factor when evaluating whether you have a valid injury claim supported by the law beyond just harm suffered.

    The following guide to rear-end accidents will present an overview of what you should know about how a crash is handled by insurance companies and plaintiffs accident attorneys should you find yourself seeking lawsuit options or find yourself in a claim dispute.

    "The NHTSA estimates 30% of all incidents involve a motorist being rear-ended."

    The rules insurers use for determining responsibility which govern compensation after an accident can vary state to state. It is first important to determine what fault doctrine is used in the state the accident occurred.

    Connect with an experienced lawyer who knows the accident laws which affect your case will be able to explain the impact to your claim or alternatively you can find the state statute in question online or via our important law by state directory.

    Continue reading to learn more about who's at faults, driver's duties, tailgating and more...

    Who is Responsible in a Rear-End Collision?

    After a collision, before even thinking about filing an insurance claim or speaking with an insurance adjuster you should speak with a professional accident attorney.

    If you want to a general understanding of the rules about how your claims work in your state, you'll want to determine what fault doctrine is recognized in the jurisdiction of the accident.

    Insurance Rules: At-Fault vs. No-Fault Liability Explained

    Here is a general overview of insurance fault doctrines used:

    At-Fault Insurance - Most States use at-fault based insurance rules for car accidents. In this scenario the at-fault motorist will be held responsible for repairs, medical bills, lost wages, (economic losses) and potentially pain and suffering (compensatory compensation), and possibly punitive. These will be paid by that motorist’s liability insurance coverage. Victims in these accidents can sue the at-fault driver and/or their insurer.

    No-Fault Insurance - In these States motorists are required to purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) from their insurance provider. PIP covers the driver for medical bills and lost wages, up to a certain amount, no matter who is at fault. Each driver involved in a collision looks to their own insurance company to cover their losses. This does not mean an at-fault driver cannot be sued for damages above and beyond what the PIP provides. Generally, accident victims who suffer permanent injury can seek greater compensation from at-fault drivers in a no-fault State.

    Click here for a more in-depth walkthrough on how fault and liability in an accident works..

    Legal responsibility after an accident can get complicated - fast.

    Every good car accident lawyer knows contributory actions, multiple involved parties, shared responsibility, conflicting testimony and unique case details can make determining who is responsible a messy proposition. Sometimes, however, the evidence is clear, the law is clear, and accountability is clear. The easiest answer is any motorist that violates traffic laws is in breach of duty and has responsibility.

    Common traffic code violations include:

    • Running a red light
    • Speeding
    • Reckless driving
    • Tailgating
    • Distracted driving

    Tailgating, often cited as following too close, results in a failure to stop in time and is a primary cause of rear-end accidents nationwide. The driver who is cited for following too close or a failure to stop will be the person assumed at fault in the accident until evidence supports otherwise.

    Types of Rear-Collisions Covered?

    Slow speed/low impact: Slow speed rear impacts involving light or no damage to the involved vehicles but possible injuries (whiplash, neck pain, etc.)

    Multi-vehicle rear-end collision: Multiple vehicle pile-ups and accident events and multi-car collisions are among the deadliest form of accident and can complicate who's at fault.

    Rear-ended by commercial truck: Accidents involving semi-trucks, commercial vehicles (tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, big-rigs, dump trucks, etc.) involve specialized insurance.

    Tailgating: Motorists who follow too closely to the front vehicle are tailgating. Motorists have a duty to drive at a reasonably safe distance and speed and be able to stop suddenly to avoid a collision if the front vehicle brakes suddenly. The rear driver is not ALWAYS at fault for tailgating accidents, however.

    crashed in parking lot

    Slow Speed Rear-End Collision: Does it Change Things?

    Until it happens, most people don't realize the potential for getting hurt exists in not just high-speed wrecks, but low speed collisions as well.

    This type of rear-end crash is most common in bumper to bumper traffic, intersections and parking lots.

    Often vehicles are traveling slowly, less than 15 mph and usually happen when one driver begins to accelerate from a stop.

    While it is a relatively minor incident the rules of fault and negligence that govern normal rear-end collisions apply.

    Injuries can still happen even if there is no vehicle damage - the personal injury attorney rule is if the accident was strong enough to bend metal you could be hurt.

    Harm to the neck, whiplash injuries and impact trauma is still possible for passengers and drivers hit at slow speeds.

    There does not seem to be an absolute speed or amount of damage a vehicle sustains for a person to experience injury. Crash tests indicate that a change of vehicle velocity of 4 km/hr (2.5 mph) may produce occupant symptoms.” - U.S. National Library of Medicine (NIH)

    The injuries sustained will generally be the responsibility of the motorist who rear-ended the car in front.

    Supporting evidence for harm suffered in an accident is vital a claim dispute is fought. For step by step instructions go here to read our guide on what to do immediately after a car accident to protect your rights and make sure your needs aren't ignored.

    When involved in an accident we recommend seeking representation from the best auto accident law firm available who can walk you through step by step what should be done to protect your interests.

    After collecting any photographs and documenting contact information of the involved parties' accident victims should visit emergency services to get checked and document sustained injuries. These documents along with the police report serve to document the incident and facts of the event.

    Your lawyer will be familiar with the tort laws and what recovery options may be available as well as being able to explain the risks and potential rewards of litigation.

    Just as important if you've been hurt in an accident, an injury lawyer accident specialist will have a wealth of experience fighting insurance companies - and knows the dirty tricks they use to reduce liability and payouts to accident victims.

    shattered glass

    Who’s at Fault if Multiple Cars Rear-End Each Other?

    Like falling dominoes - in a multi-car pile-up, when one car rear-ends another a chain reaction can happen.

    To illustrate, imagine in a three car rear-end collision the back car hits the middle car and the middle car hits the front car. Determination of fault becomes more difficult to establish in a multi-car pileup.

    Factors that can determine fault include:

    • Which motorists were cited for moving violations?
    • What was the speed of the back car at the time of the wreck.
    • Drivers, passengers and witness testimony
    • Where these multiple incidents or just a single accident.

    The data above will be gathered by police and outlined in the accident report. This evidence will need to be established in fact, so a determination of fault can be supported. Generally, the last driver and their insurer will usually be held liable for the incident. The back motorist holds the majority of fault for causing the incident. Drivers and their insurance companies will make claims against each other and the back driver.

    At-fault insurance scenarios can proceed in the following way:

    1. The middle driver is cited for following too close. The front driver’s insurer will pursue settlement from the
    2. The back driver is cited for following too close. The middle driver’s insurer will pursue damages from the back driver for their injuries.
    3. The middle driver can also pursue compensation for the damages they paid to the front driver.
    4. The back-driver’s insurer will counter claiming the middle driver is also negligent since they were cited for following too close.

    In a multi-car rear-end accidents there are three main types of evidence which can impact your case:

    • Independent witnesses
    • Vehicle damage
    • Most significant - the front driver’s testimony

    This general insurance scenario does not take into consideration the variety of negligence laws and fault rules of each State. When commercial vehicles are involved the stakes are raised and professional counsel is all the more crucial in a fight for recovery.

    Driver Duties In Collision Claims

    Driver's licensed to operate a vehicle on our shared roadways have a general duty to operate their vehicle in a reasonable and safe manner to protect other pedestrians, drivers and passengers. Operating a vehicle in any manner which breaches these duties may be considered to have been negligent.

    Duty to Drive at a Reasonable Speed: Motorists have a duty to drive at responsible speeds and failing to do so is a breach and could lead to being found negligent if a more reasonable speed would have avoided an accident event.

    Duty to Maintain Equipment: Drivers have a duty to keep their vehicle operating in a safe condition and perform maintenance and repairs in order to keep it operating safely. If what caused a vehicle to get hit from behind was a failure of equipment or a part which rendered the vehicle unsafe to operate the driver may be found negligent.

    Duty to Take Reasonable Action To Avoid: Motorists are expected to take reasonable action to avoid a collision if and when opportunity exists to do so. The rear vehicle taking no action whatsoever to avoid the impact may leave the driver in breach and be found negligent.

    Duty to Maintain Control of The Vehicle: Motorists have a duty to maintain control of their vehicle at all times and make reasonable adjustments to speed and operation for weather conditions, traffic, visibility and other road factors. If losing control of the vehicle results in a rear crash, the driver may be found in breach for having lost control of the vehicle and found negligent.

    Duty to Be On The Look Out: Motor vehicle operators are expected to watch for hazards and be alert for potential problems. The actions the driver takes in response to the environment at the time of the accident will be compared with the actions of a reasonably prudent person when assessing the accident event.

    Duties Determined by State Law: In addition to the driving laws in each state, specific duties may be imposed on drivers in addition to the general duties outlined above which must be followed for the operator to not be found negligent.

    More information on specific State imposed duties can be found in our State by State statute resource.


    Four Accident Scenarios
    Scenario #1: Rear-Ended Causes Pedestrian Knockdown

      Did you hit a pedestrian because someone rear-ended you?

      Just imagine you are diving when a pedestrian runner makes a move to cross the street - jaywalking rather than using the crosswalk. The jogger reconsiders and stops but you also stop your car suddenly. Your sudden stop results in your getting rear-ended by the car behind you - as a result you knock down the jogger after an impact with your front bumper.

      Who is at fault? The pedestrian acted irresponsibly by jaywalking. Jaywalking is a violation. The driver who hit you was tailgating or following too close - as drivers are expected to travel at a speed and a reasonable distance from the vehicle in front.

      Depending on where you live here is an example of the moving violations that could be cited.

      1. 1. You hit the pedestrian which makes you and your insurer partially responsible if you are cited for Failure to Yield to a pedestrian.
      2. 2. The pedestrian can also share in that responsibility if they are cited for Jaywalking.
      3. 3. The driver who rear-ended you could be cited for Following too Close and/or Failure to Stop.

      These citations are used as documented evidence used to establish fault. In the basic example above the most of responsibility will be on the motorist that rear-ended the vehicle in front of them.

      This is because the back car was in the best position to avoid an accident by obeying traffic laws. This is an extremely simplified definition of fault in a rear-end case.

      Cases of this nature are normally far more complex. A complete understanding of State and local laws, insurance policies, police reporting, and injured parties is key to obtaining a just outcome for plaintiffs. The representation of a skilled car accident attorney will help you navigate what the law supports with regards your claim and any potential lawsuit.

    Scenario #2: Low Speed Impact

      Accelerate from Stop Collision

      The following is a low-impact rear-end collision example to help illustrate:

      Julie is stopped at a traffic light.

      When the light turns green she starts forward. Her vehicle crosses into the intersection. From the opposite direction another car looks like it is pulling out - she reacts and slams on the brakes.

      The car behind her slams into her bumper and is now responsible for the accident as it had a duty to maintain a safe distance and speed from the vehicle it was following behind. The car that rear-ends her is going less than 10 mph, but Julie still has neck pain after the incident. The at-fault driver and their insurance company dispute your personal injury claim saying the speed was not fast enough to cause harm and deny any medical claims.

      What should Julie do?

      For Julie it is important to document the extent of injuries sustained in the accident. After a collision, if it was strong enough to bend metal, or you feel you may have suffered harm - go to the emergency room to document the extent of the injuries the accident caused.

    Scenario #3: Commercial Vehicle Involved Collision

      A Commercial Truck Rear-Ended Me.

      Just imagine you are cruising along the highway at a good clip but it starts to rain, and traffic slows abruptly.

      You brake in reaction to the brake lights ahead of you, but the commercial semi-truck behind you was too close and it skids into the rear fender of your car with a massive impact.

      Initially grateful it wasn't fatal, you realize you are hurt and wait for emergency services to arrive and get medical attention.

      Does It Make A Difference?

      Being hit or rear-ended by a commercial vehicle makes a difference.

      Firstly, commercial vehicles carry higher insurance coverage compared to private car insurance.

      The reason for this is semi-trucks and big rigs are required to follow stricter Federal and State insurance regulations. Settlements will not be limited by lower policy limits.

      Even if commercial truckers carry the minimum required coverage it is normally much higher than private insurance.

      Secondly, the right to a lawsuit is not limited to the auto insurance policy coverage you chose prior to the accident.

      Additionally, third party companies may also be financially responsible for vehicle operators.

    Scenario #4: Tailgating Pressure Caused Crash

      Road Rage & Tailgating To Pressure Faster Speeds

      Just imagine the following: you generally consider yourself a safe driver. You rarely go over the speed limit and are an experienced driver.

      By now you are used to people following too closely but it still can make you nervous. You’re driving to work on a 45-mph road when a driver comes right-up on you rear fender, filling your rear view mirror. They are pressuring you to speed-up, but you don’t, and the next light turns yellow.

      You slow to stop appropriately but the driver is following too close, too fast, and can’t stop in time and skids into an impact with your rear fender. You've just been rear-ended. There is significant vehicle damage and you identify immediate neck pain from whiplash.

      You get out to meet the driver that hit your car and collect insurance information and contact details. They express their frustration with your slow driving and blame you for stopping for the yellow light.

      What Now?

      This can show they were intentionally tailgating. When officers arrive they write-up the accident as following too close and take statements from both drivers.

      The police report shows conflicting accounts of what happened, but skid marks are evident leading up to the impact.

      You wisely consult with an accident attorney immediately, before you speak with insurance representatives as a legal dispute seems inevitable.


    rear-end accident statistics

    Tailgating: The Unnecessary Risk of Driving Too Close

    No overview of rear-end accidents could be considered complete without a detailed look into tailgating.

    Tailgating happens when one vehicle follows too closely behind another and is a leading cause of rear-end collision events.

    Driving too close can dramatically decrease the tailing driver’s ability to stop in time.

    The lack of enforcement of tailgating laws has led to this dangerous practice being all too common an encounter on the roadways.

    Distracted driving combined with tailgating is a formula for a car wreck and serious injury.

    If you would like to learn more about the issue of distraction caused car accidents visit our definitive distracted driving guide here.

    Driver’s think they are skilled enough to handle following too close, are not paying attention or are purposefully riding to close to another vehicle. Tailgating can be intentional or unintentional.

    Intentionally Tailgating another vehicle

    When people are frustrated by slower moving vehicles or aggressive drivers they start following much closer than they should. In fact, much closer than is legally acceptable. Tailgating is unsafe, risky, unlawful, and leads to a majority of rear-end wrecks.

    By riding another motorist's tail drivers pressure other motorists, it's commonly intentional - pressuring motorists for a number of unacceptable reasons.

    • Attempting to make green lights
    • Trying to pass other drivers
    • Pressuring motorists drive faster
    • Thinking they are drafting off the lead vehicle
    • Road-rage or anger with another driver
    • Drunk Driving / Impaired Driving
    • Assuming they have the right of way

    These reasons will not excuse the driver from legal fault in a accident.

    It is important to remember if a driver admits this or something similar, it supports fault and intent. Rear-ending someone “by accident” or without intent means the rear driver did not expect the vehicle in front of you to stop. Intentionally tailgating is evidence of a breach of duty when a driver has chosen to disregard traffic laws and the safety of other drivers and passengers. Willful or gross negligence laws can come into play depending on the State.

    Unintentional Tailgating

    Many safe drivers often tailgate unintentionally. Even though they don’t mean to tailgate they still follow the front vehicle to close. They will most likely be held responsible in a rear-end collision.

    Reasons for unintentionally tailgating include:

    • Fatigue
    • Ignorant driving
    • Habit of following too close
    • Tailgated by another driver
    • Distracted driving
    • Texting and driving
    injured motorist

    How to Stay Safe and Avoid Tailgaters

    A licensed motor vehicle operator understands appropriate following distance - or at least they should. Even when ticketed for tailgating drivers continue to follow too close, perhaps unaware of what a truly safe distance between vehicles is at varying speeds.

    Tailgaters show disregard for the dangers they pose to other motorists.

    3 Second Rule For Following Cars

    Safer drivers stay two car lengths behind the car in-front of them and make prudent adjustments based on the environment (weather conditions, hazard zones, traffic conditions, visibility, etc.).

    The three-second rule below is also used to find the appropriate following distance while driving at varying speeds:

    * 3-Second Rule:    A minimum safe distance between two vehicles is considered to be the length required to stop in three seconds considering the speed of travel.

    Travelling at 75 mph a car travels at 111 feet / sec. Applying the three-second rule a minimum distance of 333 feet from the front vehicle would be considered safe (111 ft. X 3 Seconds = 333 ft.). At speeds of 25 mph, a vehicle travels approximately 37 feet per second, applying the three-second rule would mean a follow car would require 111 feet distance between it and the car in-front (37 ft. X 3 Seconds = 111 ft.).

    The 3 second rule for distance between vehicles must be adjusted for weather conditions, road hazards, and other safety considerations.

    Other tips to avoid tailgating:

    • Obey speed limit
    • Let them pass when safe
    • Know and follow traffic laws
    • Be a defensive driver
    • Stay in the right lane
    • Avoid aggressive drivers

    Unfortunately, tailgating drivers can’t always be avoided. If you are being followed too closely, you should never do anything to increase a tailgaters aggressive behavior. Intentionally hitting the brakes to cause a reaction shows reckless driving on your behalf. Just continue driving to the best of your ability and obey the rules of the road.

    Need Legal Help?

    If you or someone you love has further questions for an attorney after being involved in a rear-end collision - take advantage of a free legal evaluation to have an auto accident lawyer review the details of your case. Get the peace of mind answers can bring, learn your legal options and the risks and potential rewards the law supports in your situation. Get the help you need to be confident your lawsuit is 'handled' while you focus on recovery.

    After an injury you have a limited amount of time to take legal action, so it is important that you act now. Share the details of what happened to have your claim reviewed. Get the answers you need after an accident, so you can move forward with confidence in the best direction for you and your family's needs.


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