Rear-Ended: Accident Liability and Compensation

Rear-end collisions are common, and fault is usually (but not always) straightforward, but what about proving injury?

Rear-end collisions are the most common type of car accident, making up around 30 percent of all traffic accidents every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Here's what to know:

  • Phone use (and distracted driving in general) is behind many rear-end car accidents.
  • The tailing driver is almost always at fault for a rear-end crash.
  • For the leading driver, vehicle damage claims are usually straighforward, but injury claims can be a challenge if "whiplash"-like soft tissue injuries are the extent of the diagnosis.

Determining Liability for a Rear-End Accident

Perhaps the incidence of rear-end crashes comes as little surprise, given the prevalence of smart phones, GPS units, and other devices that are within arm's reach of most drivers. There can be little doubt that distracted driving is behind many of these accidents.

But whatever the cause, when it comes to fault for a car accident, it usually doesn't get more straightforward than a rear-end crash. Except in a limited number of situations, the driver who rear-ends another vehicle is almost always going to be found negligent, and therefore at fault for the car accident. There are a few rare instances where the lead vehicle bears some level of liability for a rear-end collision, such as:

  • "brake-checking" the tailing driver (slamming on the brakes without a valid reason)
  • reversing suddenly
  • continuing to drive with a mechanical problem or flat tire and not using hazard lights or pulling over, and
  • not repairing a broken brake light or other faulty equipment.

Absent one of these scenarios (or a similar one), the determination of accident liability is straightforward, and one of the two major legal issues in a car accident case is quickly resolved. The second remaining issue is calculating damages. This is where things can get tricky, especially when it comes to injury compensation.

Obtaining Compensation for Losses After a Rear-End Car Accident

Getting compensation for vehicle damage after a rear-end car accident is usually uneventful. Since everyone will typically agree on liability, and damage to the vehicle is a fairly objective determination, most insurance companies will quickly pay a rear-end accident victim's vehicle damage claim. Learn more about car accident repair options and insurance availability.

On the other hand, getting compensation for injuries can be the most frustrating and complicated part of a car insurance injury claim or personal injury lawsuit after a rear-end collision. This is because one of the most common injuries from a rear end collision is so-called "whiplash."

Whiplash-Type Injuries

"Whiplash" is a common neck injury that results from rear-end collisions. When a driver is rear-ended, it can cause the head to whip backward, causing injuries to the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Often, these are soft issue injuries, usually in the form of strains and sprains to the muscles and tendons in the neck. Soft tissue injuries are notoriously difficult to prove and quantify. Unlike a torn muscle, broken bone, or nerve damage, it's not always easy to identify a strain or sprain injury. And even when strains and sprains are evident in medical tests, such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), it's hard to prove the extent of the injury. Much of the time, the primary measure of the whiplash injury will be subjective complaints of pain and discomfort, such as headaches, neck pain, blurred vision, shoulder and back pain, and trouble concentrating. But impact on a claimant's life can be significant with whiplash injures (and that impact is a compensable part of "pain and suffering" in a car accident injury claim).

What does this all mean? Unfortunately, it means that drivers who have been rear-ended have the opportunity to exaggerate their injuries. It also means car insurance adjusters are going to be skeptical of claimed whiplash injuries.

Don't Call It "Whiplash"

This skepticism has gotten so bad that many personal injury attorneys don't use the term "whiplash," due to its negative connotations. Instead, when referring to whiplash-type injuries, attorneys will call them cervical strains and sprains or myofascial injuries instead. Learn more about making an injury claim for whiplash after a car accident and preserving your right to compensation after a car accident.

Getting Help After a Rear-End Crash

If you've been injured in a rear-and vehicle accident, having an experienced legal professional on your side can make a big difference in getting a favorable outcome. Especially if your injuries are of the soft tissue variety, but they're having a big impact on your life, it might be time to hire a car accident lawyer.

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