Who Is At-Fault in a Rear-End Accident?

September 22, 2023 | Ed Bernstein
Who Is At-Fault in a Rear-End Accident?

The driver of a vehicle that hits another from behind is often at fault for a rear-end accident. But not always. Sometimes, the other party is at fault or shares the blame with the at-fault trailing driver.

Determining fault for a rear-end accident can be a nuanced, fact- and law-intensive exercise. It often takes a close examination of accident-related evidence and careful evaluation of the legal principles behind the question of fault. Here's how legal and insurance professionals often approach that task and why hiring a skilled car accident lawyer in Las Vegas to handle your claim for damages after getting hurt in a rear-end collision is essential.

Overview of Rear-End Accidents

Rear-end collisions are traffic accidents in which one vehicle hits another from behind. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions are exceedingly frequent. There are more than two million of them per year, comprising roughly one-third of all motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads.

Rear-end accidents most commonly occur due to distracted driving, tailgating (following another vehicle too closely), or speeding. They often happen at intersections, highway exit and entrance ramps, and in heavy stop-and-go traffic.

Although they have a reputation as minor fender benders, rear-end collisions can be violent crashes, especially when the collision happens at a high speed or involves vehicles of different sizes.

Regardless of crash severity, however, any rear-end accident can inflict potentially severe injuries on drivers and passengers of both vehicles. Some common rear-end accident injuries include whiplash, spinal damage, broken bones, and brain trauma.

In the worst-case scenario, a severe rear-end collision can result in fatalities. According to the NHTSA, more than 2,000 people die annually, on average, in rear-end crashes.

The Interplay of Fault and Liability in a Rear-End Accident

Lawyers, insurance companies, and others who investigate or litigate auto accidents tend to use the word fault to refer to someone's responsibility for wrongfully causing an accident. Fault does not necessarily signify intent. Even if the collision was a genuine accident, the person who caused it can still be at fault.

A man getting out of the car has a minor concussion after a rear-end collision in Las Vegas

For legal purposes, fault does require that the party did something wrong. Saying someone is at fault for a rear-end accident implies that they could have, and reasonably should have, acted in a way that would have prevented the crash from happening. They're at fault because their decisions, actions, or failures to act caused an accident that might not otherwise have occurred.

Non-lawyers tend to use the words fault and liability interchangeably, and it's understandable why they do. Liability is the legal responsibility to pay for someone else's injuries and losses in an accident. And generally, the party at fault for a rear-end collision is also the one liable for damages suffered by crash victims. In other words, if you're at fault for a rear-end crash, you're probably also liable for paying compensation to those injured.

But in a strictly legal sense, although fault and liability overlap, they're not identical. While parties at fault for a crash are usually liable to its victims, not all parties with liability for a crash are at fault for it. Liability can also fall on others who have a legal obligation to answer for the at-fault parties' misconduct.

For example, the courts could hold a vehicle owner liable for a rear-end accident caused by a family member or friend who borrowed their car. Or an employer might bear liability for a rear-end crash caused by an employee at work.

When lawyers evaluate rear-end accident cases, they try to identify the parties at fault because that's usually a clue as to who is liable. But they also dig deeper to figure out if others who aren't necessarily at fault should also pay damages caused by the crash.

Parties Commonly At-Fault for Rear-End Accidents

A virtually unlimited array of individuals, businesses, government agencies, or other entities, could bear the fault for a rear-end accident. But a few parties deserve the blame for most of those crashes. Here's an overview of them.

The Trailing Driver

Often, the trailing driver is at fault in rear-end accidents due to following the other driver too closely, not maintaining a safe driving speed, or becoming distracted behind the wheel.

In all 50 states, drivers must operate in a manner to avoid colliding with a vehicle ahead of them. The trailing driver in nearly all rear-end collisions has violated this norm, which is why there's a strong (but imperfect) presumption of fault on that driver's part.

The Lead Driver

Sometimes, the driver of the leading vehicle may also bear some responsibility for causing the rear-end collision. For instance, they might bear at least partial fault in the accident if their brake lights were not functioning correctly, they stopped abruptly without reason, or they did not maintain their vehicle so it broke down suddenly in the middle of traffic.

An Automotive Manufacturer

If a vehicle malfunctions because of a defect in its component parts, the vehicle or part manufacturer could be at fault (and strictly liable) for the resulting rear-end crash. This could be the case, for example, if the trailing vehicle experiences a brake failure or a sudden, unintended acceleration.

Other Road Users

Other motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists could also be at fault for causing a rear-end collision.

For example, the driver of a car that cuts off another, requiring the second car to brake suddenly, could bear the blame when a third vehicle plows into the rear of the second. Similarly, a pedestrian who carelessly steps out into traffic or a bicyclist who flits erratically between traffic lanes could also be at fault for an accident.

Road Agencies and Private Road Owners

The courts also sometimes hold those responsible for designing, building, and maintaining safe roads at fault for a rear-end accident. If a government agency or private road owner designed and built an intersection at a blind curve (despite having other options for its location) and failed to post signs warning drivers about it, the agency or owner could share fault for rear-end collisions as a result.

How Do You Determine Fault for a Rear-End Accident?

Pinpointing fault in a rear-end accident isn't always as straightforward as it may seem. Various factors come into play, requiring a meticulous process to ensure an accurate determination. Here's how the process generally works.

Gathering Evidence

The initial step in determining fault for a rear-end accident involves preserve evidence. This evidence can take various forms, such as photographs of vehicle damage, video footage of the accident (if available), witness statements, police reports, and vehicle black box data. In complex cases, parties can use accident reconstruction techniques to gain a precise understanding of events leading up to the collision.

Reviewing the Law

Once lawyers and investigators have collected evidence, they analyze it considering the relevant state laws and legal principles. Every state has a motor vehicle code mandating safe driving conduct, for example, and it's often helpful to explore whether any of the parties involved in a rear-end collision violated its provisions. Traffic code violations can often point to fault for an accident.

Applying the Standard of Reasonable Care

The concept of reasonable care is fundamental to determining fault in most rear-end collision cases. It dictates that motorists must exercise a level of attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.

If a driver fails to meet this standard and an accident occurs, the courts typically deem them at fault for the crash.

The level of reasonable care a driver must employ can vary depending on the circumstances. For instance, a driver in heavy traffic or poor weather conditions may need to exercise a higher degree of care and caution than one driving on an empty road in good weather.

Assessing Causation

In a rear-end collision, the question of causation is also crucial in determining who is at fault. Fault only exists if there is a reasonably direct link between a party's actions (or inaction) and the accident. Even if a party acted carelessly or recklessly, the courts can't hold them at fault unless their misconduct logically and foreseeably led to the collision. Determining causation may require expert analysis based on technical knowledge of vehicle dynamics, braking distances, and road conditions.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Fault in a Rear-End Collision

Injured rear-end accident victims and their loved ones often have lots of questions about their rights and options after a crash. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that lawyers often receive regarding fault in a rear-end collision.

Can I Get Compensation If I Think I Was Partially At-Fault in a Rear-End Accident?

Yes. Don't be so sure you were at fault. Accident victims often incorrectly blame themselves for what happened, even though they could have done little or nothing to prevent it.

Even if you do bear some responsibility for a rear-end crash, it does not necessarily mean you can't receive compensation. In many states, you can still seek compensation for the share of fault that other parties bore for the crash and your injuries. Talk to an experienced rear-end accident injury lawyer today to learn more.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Know Who Was at Fault?

Yes. Even if you think you know who was at fault for the rear-end collision that injured you or your loved one, it's still beneficial to hire a lawyer to handle your claim.

An experienced accident attorney can gather evidence, interpret laws, advocate for your rights, handle insurance negotiations, and go to court, if necessary, on your behalf.  

How Long Does It Take to Get Money From the At-Fault Driver?

It depends. The timeline in a rear-end accident injury case can range from a matter of weeks to years. Its duration depends on numerous factors, including the number of parties involved, the degree of dispute regarding liability and damages, the amount of money at stake, and administrative issues such as court scheduling.

You don't have much control of those factors. But you do control one essential step in seeking compensation for your losses: the sooner you hire a skilled lawyer to handle your claim, the quicker the rest of the process can take its course.

How Much Can I Get for My Damages?

The amount of compensation you might receive for a rear-end accident claim depends on numerous factors, including the severity of your injuries, the strength of your case, the skill and reputation of your lawyer, and the financial resources the party at fault has to pay your damages (such as insurance or liquid assets).

There's no fixed amount you're sure to recover; in fact, there's no guarantee you'll recover anything. But the most reliable way to put yourself in a position to secure the most money possible is to hire an experienced lawyer immediately to handle your claim.

How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?

It doesn't cost anything upfront to hire a lawyer to handle your rear-end accident case, and you pay nothing unless the lawyer wins for you. Lawyers for crash victims like you offer free consultations where you can learn all about your rights without any financial obligation. They also represent their clients on contingency, meaning you only pay them out of the money they secure for you.

Contact an Experienced Rear-End Accident Lawyer Today

Assigning fault for a rear-end accident can be complex. Numerous factors can influence who bears the blame for a rear-end crash that injured you or your loved one. The most reliable way to identify the party (or parties) at fault is to hire an experienced Las Vegas personal injury lawyer to handle your compensation claim. To learn more, contact a lawyer 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.