How to Determine Fault in a Rear-End Accident

September 20, 2023 | Ed Bernstein
How to Determine Fault in a Rear-End Accident

Determining fault in a rear-end collision can be a factually intensive and legally complicated exercise. There's a widespread belief that the driver of the trailing vehicle—the one that hits another from behind—is always at fault for a rear-end crash. While that's often the case, it's not always so. Even when it is, other parties can share fault for what happened and owe compensation to accident victims.

In this blog post, we unpack the complex question of how to determine fault in a rear-end accident. We explore how rear-end collisions occur, what it means to be at fault, and how Las Vegas car accident lawyers approach the task of identifying at-fault parties and holding them accountable to injured crash victims.

Understanding Rear-End Accidents

A rear-end accident occurs when one vehicle crashes into the back of the vehicle in front of it. It's one of the most common collisions on U.S. roads. According to annual crash data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions account for approximately 30 percent of all motor vehicle accidents annually, totaling more than two million. 

A man calling personal injury lawyer after experiencing a rear-end car accident in Las Vegas

Numerous scenarios can lead to a rear-end accident. Common causes include driver inattention or distraction (such as texting while driving), following too closely behind another vehicle, speeding driver or driving too fast, and mechanical or systems failure. Rear-end crashes can happen anywhere but are especially frequent in heavy traffic and at intersections.

The damage a rear-end crash may cause can range in severity from relatively minor to catastrophic, often depending on the speed of the trailing vehicle at the moment of impact. Regardless of the forces in a collision, virtually every rear-end accident holds the potential to inflict significant physical injuries and even fatalities. According to the NHTSA, on average, more than 2,000 people die in rear-end accidents every year, and hundreds of thousands more sustain injuries.

Another driver's action or inaction may directly cause a rear-end collision, but there's more to consider before finding fault for a crash in the legal sense. To be liable for a rear-end accident, a driver or other party must have breached a duty of care to the injured party.

The law imposes certain duties for drivers to act safely and responsibly behind the wheel. Those obligations include maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front, adjusting their speed according to traffic conditions, and paying attention to the road. Drivers are at fault when a breach of those duties causes an accident. Conversely, we tend not to hold drivers at fault for a crash that happens even though they've followed all the formal and informal rules of the road.

The Sometimes-Inaccurate Presumption of Fault in Rear-End Collisions

Many people, including the police, presume that fault for a rear-end collision lies with the driver of the trailing vehicle, as motorists should always remain a safe distance from the car ahead. A driver violates that basic rule when their vehicle hits the one in front. The presumption of fault then lies with that driver.

Presumptions, however, aren't proof. Circumstances can arise where the trailing driver bears only partial fault, or none at all, for a rear-end accident. If a vehicle has broken down and its driver doesn't turn on the hazard lights, for instance, the trailing driver might not bear too much blame for a collision.

And if the car in front makes a sudden and unexpected stop, the driver behind may have no opportunity to avoid a rear-end crash, despite maintaining a safe distance.

These are just a couple of examples, but they illustrate scenarios where another party may be at fault. That's why analyzing fault in every rear-end accident is essential, regardless of how obvious the conclusion might initially seem.

How to Determine Fault in a Rear-End Accident

To determine fault in a rear-end accident, a lawyer examines and analyzes facts and evidence. Traffic laws often provide the basic framework for weighing that evidence because they broadly define what constitutes safe driving. A violation of the rules of the road is a reliable indicator of fault for a crash. If the evidence shows a party broke a traffic law, there's a good chance that the party bears the fault for the rear-end collision.

The evidence that lawyers and insurance companies consider when determining fault for a rear-end accident comes in various forms. It can include photographs of the accident scene, vehicle crash, skid marks on the road, video footage, onboard computer and mobile phone data, and medical records of injuries. Recollections of those involved and third-party eyewitness accounts can also supply invaluable information about the incident.

A police accident report may also supply valuable information about the cause of a rear-end accident and who is at fault. What the police conclude about fault, however, is not necessarily the final decision in assigning liability.

Police reports are not admissible in court and don't prove fault or decide who should pay damages. If a police accident report concludes that your actions contributed to the accident, you could still secure compensation from others.

Liability Flowing From Fault

A party at fault in a rear-end collision is typically liable for the damages it inflicted on crash victims. The at-fault party's liability insurance coverage often pays for the victims' losses up to the policy's limits. The at-fault party, however, may also have to pay compensation out of their own pocket.

The standard damages recoverable in a rear-end accident fall into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are quantifiable financial costs and losses, such as medical bills, physical therapy expenses, lost income and benefits from missing work, and lost future earning opportunities.

Non-economic damages encompass those intangible losses that don't have a monetary value but still inflict severe harm. They commonly include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium.

In rear-end accidents where the at-fault party's behavior is extraordinarily reckless or negligent, a court may award punitive damages to the victim. These damages punish the wrongdoer and deter others from committing the same acts.

There's no fixed amount of damages you may receive following a rear-end accident. Every case differs. The amount recoverable depends on various factors, including the severity of your injuries, the strength of the evidence available to prove fault, the skill of your lawyer, and the at-fault party's financial resources (including insurance and liquid assets).

Contact an experienced lawyer today to learn how much you could recover from the party at fault for your rear-end accident.

The Role a Lawyer Plays in Securing Compensation for a Rear-End Accident

Securing compensation from at-fault parties can be challenging, particularly when you're recuperating from injuries following a rear-end accident. This is where the services of an experienced attorney are invaluable.

A lawyer dedicated to your case helps to carry the burden of securing money for your losses, allowing you to focus solely on your healing and recovery. Lawyers are crucial in identifying who is at fault. They can carefully analyze the evidence, liaise with insurance companies, and, if needed, present your case in court.

An attorney understands the nuances of traffic laws, investigates the accident, collects relevant evidence, engages with witnesses, and assesses police reports. With this knowledge, your lawyer aims to build a strong case targeting the parties at fault.

Lawyers also know how to negotiate with insurance companies. They can handle all interactions with insurers on your behalf, so you never have to worry about saying the wrong thing or missing a critical deadline. Your lawyer can negotiate with the insurance companies and seek a settlement of your claim on the most favorable terms possible.

Most rear-end accident cases settle through negotiations with the at-fault party's insurer or defense lawyer. Some don't, however, and when that happens, your lawyer can take your case to court to prove the other party's fault and your damages to a judge and jury.

Can You Afford a Lawyer for a Rear-End Accident Case?

Hiring an experienced attorney to handle your rear-end accident case may seem expensive, especially when you're already dealing with medical bills and potential loss of income due to injuries. It is affordable, however, regardless of your financial circumstances.

Most law firms representing rear-end accident victims offer potential clients a free, no-obligation consultation. This appointment allows the attorney to examine the specifics of your case, assess the potential for recovering damages, and provide a preliminary assessment of your options and what they can do for you. You'll never have to pay for this meeting, even if you decide not to proceed with legal action.  

Even more crucially, rear-end accident lawyers work for their clients on a contingent fee basis. You don't pay any legal fees unless your lawyer secures money on your behalf. This arrangement allows injured rear-end accident victims to obtain legal representation without any upfront cost, ensuring you can focus your resources on your recovery. (Required disclaimer: You may have to pay your opponent's court fees and costs in the event of a loss.)

Frequently Asked Questions About Fault in Rear-End Accidents

A rear-end accident can lead to many questions, particularly if you're unsure who is at fault. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about fault in rear-end accident cases.

Do I Need a Lawyer If Fault Is Obvious?

Yes, you do. Even when it seems clear who is at fault, hiring an experienced attorney is still beneficial. Fault may appear obvious, but securing compensation takes effort, and the opposing party's insurance company may dispute your claim.

Identifying whether other parties share liability can improve your chances of recovering the maximum compensation. A lawyer can take care of everything for you.

Whose Fault Is a Rear-End Accident If the Roads Were Slippery?

Slippery road conditions might make it seem like no one is at fault in a rear-end accident, but that's rarely the case. Slick roads require the trailing driver to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and to signal and brake responsibly. Slippery conditions also compound drivers' obligations to keep their vehicles in roadworthy condition.

A driver who traveled on a snowy road on balding tires, for example, may cause a rear-end accident because their tires lacked adequate tread.

What Parties Other Than the Drivers Could Be at Fault?

There are scenarios where other parties could be at fault for a rear-end accident. If the rear vehicle's brakes failed due to a manufacturing defect, for example, the car manufacturer might share liability for the crash.

Similarly, if a traffic light malfunction caused confusion that led to the collision, the municipality responsible for maintaining the signal could bear some fault. A knowledgeable attorney can identify all potential parties at fault in a rear-end accident and maximize your chances of securing fair compensation.

Contact a Skilled Rear-End Accident Lawyer Today

If you or someone you love recently sustained injuries in a rear-end accident, the party at fault may owe you significant compensation. To learn more, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Las Vegas today for a free case consultation.


Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.