Rear-end accidents are the most frequent type of traffic accidents. They occur when one vehicle strikes the back of another, and typically it occurs when the lead vehicle is moving slowly or has stopped, and another vehicle is speeding and does not slowdown in time or does not stop.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, NHTSA, nearly one-third of all accidents are rear-end collisions. An NHTSA report stated that rear-end accidents are the most common type of collision, accounting for 29 percent of all motor vehicle accidents. These crashes result in a significant number of injuries and fatalities every year.
Determining fault in a rear-end accident typically includes if a driver was negligent. The following is expected of drivers of any vehicle:
- Driving with reasonable care
- Looking out for pedestrians and other vehicles
- Abiding by traffic lights and road signs, such as a stop sign or a yield sign
- Controlling the speed of your vehicle
Drivers of motor vehicles are expected to follow all traffic laws. They are also expected to keep a safe distance from the following car. While there is no specific distance that the law requires drivers to abide by, certain conditions may indicate that a greater distance is required. Situations that may lead to conditions in which a driver is expected to keep a safe distance from other vehicles may include:
- Driving at night
- Driving in rain or snow
- Heavy traffic, such as stop-and-go
- Heavy vehicle weight
While the driver who hit the lead vehicle may tend to believe that they are at fault for the accident, the following may be reasons that the lead driver may be liable or partially liable for the accident.
- Pulling out in front of another car without using blinker light
- Reversing into another vehicle
- Tailgating another vehicle, driving too close
- Distracted driving
- Driving carelessly with the intention to get hit
- Driving with broken brake lights.
- Drunk driving
Instances in which the driver who rear-ends the other vehicle are more common. These situations include:
- A driver hits a vehicle on the highway during traffic
- A driver does not plan to stop at a stop sign and crashes into the vehicle ahead stops completely
- A driver does not reduce speed in a pedestrian area and hits a vehicle ahead that has stopped for a pedestrian crosswalk
- A driver does not notice that the vehicle ahead has reduced its speed with a turn signal on and slams into the back of the vehicle
- A driver hits a car that does not speed through an intersection with a yellow traffic light
- A driver crashes into the back of a car that does not speed up as soon as the traffic light turns green
Situations in which both drivers may be at fault for a rear-end accident include the following:
- The leading driver’s brake lights are broken and though the vehicle as slowed down the driver behind the lead driver has no indication that the car is slowing down
- The lead driver reverses the vehicle while waiting at a stop sign or a traffic light
- The lead driver does not use a turn signal when slowing down to make a turn
Florida is a comparative negligence state and, in these instances, involving shared responsibility, the driver who has rear-ended the other driver can still file a claim against the other driver. The total amount of damages they can recover will be reduced by the percentage at which they are at fault for the rear-end accident.
Injuries usually associated with rear-end crashes
Whiplash is commonly caused by rear-end car accidents. is a neck injury that occurs when the head suddenly moves backward and forward. This injury may range from mild to severe. The main symptom is pain in the neck and shoulders. A majority of people who are injured with whiplash will recover within a few weeks by following a treatment plan of medication and exercise, however, some instances of whiplash may be more severe and require long-term treatment. Symptoms of whiplash may include:
- Neck stiffness and pain
- Pain with neck movement getting worse
- Reduced range of motion in the neck
- Headaches, primarily at the base of the skull
- Tenderness and pain in the arms, upper back, and shoulders
Head and neck injuries from airbag deployment
While airbags are life saving devices in vehicles, such as reducing morbidity and mortality, severe spinal injuries can still occur, even with deployment of airbags. According to Journal of the International Society of Head and Neck Trauma (ISHANT), Airbag related injuries can occasionally present with unusual presentations and there are reports of submandibular gland rupture, facial nerve palsy and TMJ disk displacement. The majority of airbag associated injuries are minor, however.
Seat belt injuries
Although seatbelts have prevented numerous deaths by reducing head injuries, they can cause damage to a passenger in the vehicle through the transmission of force upon impact. The National Institutes of Health has stated that seat belt injury, also called seatbelt syndrome, is a group of common injury profiles associated with the use of seatbelts. These range from bruising and cuts following the distribution of the seatbelt, also known as seatbelt sign, to injuries of the abdomen and vertebral fractures.
- Ankle and knee damage may occur in motor vehicle accidents. The legs might brace for impact, leading to injury, or the car might be pushed in, leading to a significant force of impact. Additionally, flexing your legs as you brace for an impact can lead to ankle and knee injuries
- Traumatic Neck and back injuries may occur. Trauma to the neck and back from the force of an implant in a rear-end collision may lead to herniated disks and spinal compression. These types of injuries may lead to chronic pain, long-term rehabilitative care and treatment, and can possibly require surgery and extensive physical therapy.
Compensation for rear-end accidents
While rear-end accidents are common, the claims process may not always be straight-forward. Determining fault and liability are important steps to move the claim forward. Typically, once fault has been determined, the insurance company will pay for the damaged vehicle’s repairs and damages that the driver who was not at fault sustained. Some rear-end accidents will result in injuries that are easily documented with objectionable evidence. Other injuries may result in a less straight-forward claims process.
While whiplash is one of the most common injuries associated with rear-end collisions, involving damage to the shoulders, upper back and neck, proving a whiplash injury can be a longer process. A test like an MRI may or may not show the soft tissue injuries usually associated with whiplash. Therefore, proving the injury often relies on more subjective evidence, such as personal statements of pain and discomfort.
However, if you have sustained head, neck, or back injuries, you will want to notify the at-fault driver’s insurance company immediately. Whether through an insurance claim or a lawsuit, you will want to document your injuries, lost wages that occurred as a result of these injuries, medical bills and other expenses associated with the crash.
Sometimes, insurance adjusters will not pay out your claim. In these cases, you will want to contact a personal injury attorney about the next steps forward so that you may attain the compensation you are entitled to.
In Florida, any rear-end accident that involves death, injury, or property damage of $500 or more must be reported to the local police department, or the Florida Highway Patrol if it did not. If someone has been injured and requires medical attention, 911 should be called immediately.
After seeking medical attention, the following steps may be taken:
- Check on all involved in the accident to see if they are “okay” or injured;
- If anyone is injured, call 911 right away;
- Protect your rights by contacting your attorney;
- Wait for the police to arrive, unless you feel you need to go in an emergency vehicle to the hospital
- Give your report on the accident to the police or trooper; and
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible, and most certainly within 14 days from the date of the accident
When giving a statement about the accident, it is important to never admit fault, but rather state the facts of what happened to a law enforcement officer. You may want to consult with an experienced lawyer prior to talking to the insurance company about what happened, whether you have suffered mild to moderate, or more severe injuries, you will want to know your legal options to cover your damages.