Posted By Alan Sackrin on December 18, 2014
Last Update: 12/29/16
Car accidents (and truck accidents) involving a “rear-end collision” usually involve a driver who fails to stop the vehicle and crashes into the vehicle in front of it (a common cause is some type of distracted driving, like texting while driving or talking on a cell phone). In some rear-end crashes, there is a “chain reaction” involving several cars where one vehicle strikes another in the rear propelling it into a third vehicle.
What Are The Common Causes of Rear-End Collisions?
Rear-end collisions are the most common type of automobile accidents. There are many causes of this type of accident. Usually, it is inattentiveness that results in a motorist not being able to stop in time to avoid a collision. The driver may become distracted or not realize that traffic ahead is stopping or slowing down. Many times, speed is a factor. Following too closely also contributes to a substantial number of accidents. Occasionally, brake failure causes a collision. In that case, the theory of negligence is a failure to maintain the vehicle in a reasonably safe condition.
According to the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA), there are over 2.5 million rear-end crashes each year. A high percentage of the drivers causing rear-end collisions are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Rear-end accidents are some of the most common types of crashes that are filed with insurance companies today. Some are minor incidents; others are serious wrecks where people are seriously hurt or killed.
Research done by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, among others, confirms that most rear-end accidents happen because of certain dangers. Things that happen again and again; these include:
- Tailgating, where the driver is driving too close to the car ahead of him;
- Driver inattention or distraction, where the driver fails to be alert and ready to respond to traffic;
- Driver intoxication, as the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. More and more often, drivers are getting behind the wheel in Florida compromised by prescription drugs, including pain medications as well as Over the Counter drugs like cold and flu medications.
- Weather conditions that make the streets more dangerous due to slippery surfaces or hazards like fog where visibility is compromised for drivers;
- Road defects, where physical hazards like pot holes or debris from a recent storm can cause a driver to brake or spin out of control, causing an accident;
- Children or animals that run into the path of traffic, causing an accident as drivers try to avoid hitting them;
- Pedestrians jaywalking or otherwise moving into the path of traffic, causing an accident as drivers try to avoid hitting them;
- Construction zones, where road construction or work zones create temporary hazards for drivers;
- Faulty brake lights or lights that fail to work, leaving the rear driver unaware that the car ahead is slowing down or stopping; and
- Vehicle breakdowns, where a driver loses the ability to drive his car suddenly due to things like a blown tire or a failure in the electrical system shutting down the engine.
What Is The Negligence?
In a rear end car accident, the insurance adjuster will be looking to find fault on the part of the claimant as well as confirming the liability of his policyholder. In a rear end car accident, most will assume that the rear driver is at fault. This may not be true. See our post, “ How Do You Know If A Driver Acted Reasonably In Trying To Avoid A Rear End Car Accident?.”
Negligence in a rear end car accident can be the cause of many things, including:
- failing to pay attention to the road and look out for hazards;
- failing to stop within a reasonable time;
- failing to drive at a reasonable speed (based not just on posted speed limits but also on road conditions);
- failing to maintain control of the vehicle;
- failing to yield the right of way;
- failing to use turn signal(s); and
- failing to follow at a safe distance.
Each accident will need to be evaluated on its own merits to determine what driver was to blame for causing the rear end crash.
After a rear end car accident, the injured victim will need to file a claim for damages with the insurance carrier representing the at-fault driver. It is the responsibility of the accident victim to gather proof to support his or her claim that the insurance carrier’s insured was the cause of the crash.
In a rear end accident, the police report filed by the officers first on the scene will be very important to the accident victim. This investigative report will be filed with confirmation of things like the location of the vehicles at the time of the crash; the weather conditions; if the other driver was impaired in some way, etc.
However, a knowledgeable accident victim will not rely solely on the police officer’s file for support of his or her claim. It’s important for the rear end accident victim to do his or her own leg work and gather evidence showing that the other driver was liable for what has happened. As well, the accident victim will need to gather proof of his or her damages.
How best to do this? Rear end crash victims can use their smartphones at the scene as well as taking steps later to gather:
- incident reports by firefighters or paramedics;
- witness statements by passengers in either vehicle;
- witness statements of bystanders;
- medical records establishing injuries and treatment; and
- lost wages documentation.
Fault in a Florida “Rear End” Car Accident
In Florida, there is a rebuttable presumption that the operator of a vehicle which rear-ends another vehicle is at fault for causing the accident. However, the rebuttable presumption can be overcome with evidence that the operator of the front vehicle unexpectedly stopped or slowed down when there was no reason for a motorist traveling behind to anticipate that the front vehicle would stop or slow down. The presumption of negligence can also be overcome with evidence that the operator of the vehicle that was struck suddenly changed lanes causing the accident.
Once the driver who rear-ended the vehicle presents evidence sufficient enough to overcome the presumption of negligence, then it is up to the jury to determine who is at fault. There have been instances where the driver of the front vehicle has been found 100% at fault for causing the collision. Other times, juries have found both motorists at fault under the doctrine of comparative negligence.
In the vast majority of cases, the issue of fault in rear end collisions is not contested; either the driver of the rear vehicle admits fault or does not seriously contest it. However, the at-fault driver, or his or her attorney and/or insurance company, will dispute the nature and extent of the injuries allegedly sustained by the driver or passengers in the vehicle that was struck from behind.
Injuries in Rear-End Collisions
1. Soft Tissue Injuries -Whiplash and Herniated Discs
Soft tissue injuries involve injuries to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and the discs between the vertebrae. Hard tissue is bone.
Victims of a rear-end collision often suffer injuries to the neck and spine. The majority of injury claims resulting from rear-end collisions involve “whiplash.” Whiplash is defined by the Mayo Clinic as :
“ Whiplash is a neck injury that can occur during rear-end automobile collisions, when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward — similar to the motion of someone cracking a whip. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion. Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, prescription medications and physical therapy may be helpful. Most people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, but some people may develop chronic pain after a whiplash injury.”
Most whiplash injuries resolve in a few weeks to a few months. Under Florida automobile law, in most cases, a person bringing a claim must have sustained at least one injury that is permanent in order for that person to recover money for his or her pain and suffering, disability, loss of enjoyment of life and mental anguish (emotional distress). Sometimes a whiplash injury is permanent but it is difficult to prove.
If the pain, loss of range of motion, and discomfort persist, often times a medical provider such as an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist or a chiropractor will order an MRI of the neck (cervical spine) to see if there is a herniated disc or some other condition that could be causing the problem. A herniated disc is significant especially if the injured person has shooting pains or numbness down one or both of his or her upper extremities. However, often times a person may have a herniated disc but the condition of the cervical spine on the MRI is such that it is difficult for a radiologist or other specialist to conclude that the herniated disc resulted from the motor vehicle collision. A fairly high percentage of people have herniated discs and do not even know it as the herniations are not causing any symptoms. However, if a herniated or bulging disc causes pressure on the nerves, this can cause shooting pain or numbness in the upper extremities. Usually, such pain will be down one arm.
The same holds true for lower and middle back injuries resulting from rear-end collisions. A person may suffer from back pain but it is usually a back strain which will resolve in a few weeks to a few months. However, if the pain and loss of range of motions persist, then the medical provider will order a lumbar (low back) MRI or a Thoracic (middle back) MRI. Low back injuries are much more common that middle back injuries in rear-end collisions. If there is a herniated disc, the injured person may have shooting pain or numbness in one of the lower extremities.
A person who sustains a soft tissue injury such as a low back strain or whiplash will ordinarily undergo several weeks of therapy and take anti-inflammatory medications. If the injury is severe enough, the doctor may prescribe a more significant pain medication. At times, epidural injections or other pain management modalities will be recommended by the medical practitioner. Often times, these injections are done in a series of three over a few months and provide at least temporary relief from the symptoms.
As a last resort, a person with a herniated disc will have to undergo surgery to repair the condition. This entails removing part of the disc material. Sometimes, the entire disc is removed and a person undergoes a spinal fusion where two vertebrae are fused together. This will alleviate pain but may restrict a person’s motion.
Often times a car crash, even a rear-end crash can result in a fracture of one or more bones. The nature and location of the fracture will determine the treatment. Some fractures need immediate surgery while others just need time to heal on their own. Fractures in joints such as the hip, shoulder, ankle and knees are more serious as they often result in arthritis later in life in the affected joint. An injured person should thoroughly research the qualifications of an orthopedic surgeon who will perform the surgery.
3. Seat Belt Injuries
Another common injury from rear-end collisions, even those occurring at low speeds, are seat belt injuries. Here, the force of the impact of the rear car slamming into the car in front of it pushes the occupants of both vehicles forward in a way that can cut skin as well as bruise the chest, ribs, collarbones, and internal organs.
Insurance companies are often suspicious of injury claims resulting from a rear-end collision and will require medical confirmation of these injuries. This is particularly true of “soft tissue injuries” described above. Many times a doctor hired by the insurance company will conclude that the person claiming an injury did not sustain a permanent injury from the accident. These doctors may have good qualifications but they make hundreds of thousands of dollars or more from doing examinations on behalf of insurance companies.
Are Injuries Often Disputed?
Although the issue of fault in a rear end collision is not disputed in many instances, the nature and extent of the injuries are almost always disputed by the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed in a rear-end accident, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the types and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation ?(over the phone or in person) to review your case and answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.