Most people automatically assume that a rear end collision car accident is always the fault of the driver in the rear since the law imposes a duty on all drivers to always maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of them. While this may be the general rule, there are exceptions to this general presumption about rear end collision accidents. If you are sitting in traffic at a red light and you are rear ended, then it is likely a black and white of clear-cut liability. The driver behind you is responsible. But what if the vehicle directly in front of you suddenly brakes for no apparent reason? For example, the driver may have accidentally stepped on the brake pedal, or they may have panicked after seeing a small animal run across the road. What if you are on the freeway and the vehicle in front of you suddenly changes lanes and enters your lane giving you little or not time to avoid slamming into their car? Surely they must be partly, if not completely, responsible for the collision since you did nothing wrong. You were operating your vehicle in a safe and prudent manner and could not have avoided the collision. As you can see, there are exceptions to the general assumption that the driver in the rear is always responsible for a rear end collision.
Freeway Sudden Lane Changes
The most common exception to the general presumption about rear end collision accidents involves another vehicle on the freeway suddenly changes lanes and enters your lane at a much slower speed than you are traveling. This frequently happens when there is traffic or an accident up ahead in the other driver’s lane. Instead of slowing down or stopping, the other vehicle suddenly changes lanes into your lane which is moving a faster pace than their lane. They don’t realize that you are already in the lane and traveling at a much faster speed than they are, or they simply never saw you or never cared to look before changing lanes. The result is that their vehicle suddenly appears in your lane, traveling much slower than you, and there is nothing you can do to avoid the collision.
Witnesses play an exceptionally important role in freeway lane change accidents. Drivers who are guilty of making sudden lane changes frequently allege that they changed lanes safely and were in your lane for several seconds before impact. They may even believe that it is true since they were not thinking when they changed lanes. Also, their natural defense mechanism is to say they did nothing wrong. Recently, a client was a victim of a sudden lane change in which it was physically impossible for her to avoid the collision. The other driver alleged that they had safely changed lanes and for at least three full seconds prior to impact. This was not true. An interview of witnesses to the accident revealed that, in fact, the collision occurred within less than one second after the lane change. This key witness helped proved that the driver made an unsafe lane change and was responsible for the car accident.
Slamming on the Brakes
We all know the general rule that you must maintain a safe following distance in order anticipate sudden slowing or braking by vehicles in front of you. But what if you maintained a safe following distance but the driver in front of you slammed on their brakes for no apparent reason. Even at a safe following distance driving in a prudent manner, you may be completely caught off guard and unable to avoid a collision. In this situation, the fault will usually be apportioned. The other driver can be deemed partially at fault for their negligent act of suddenly slamming on the brakes for no reason which constitutes driving in an unsafe manner. But you may also be deemed partially at fault because had you maintained a greater following distance you may have been able to avoid the collision.
Being Pushed Into Another Vehicle
Another situation arises where you are rear ended while sitting in traffic and the force of that impact thrusts your car into the vehicle in front of you. In this type of car accident, the vehicle that rear ended you would be responsible for both collisions. In a chain accident involving multiple vehicles, the vehicle who caused the initial impact is responsible for all impacts. For example, if a commercial truck rear ends a car and causes a chain accident involving eight vehicles, the truck that started the chain reaction would be responsible for the damage to all eight vehicles and the injuries suffered by all of the occupants.
The above examples illustrate that despite the general presumption in a rear end collision accident that places liability on the driver in the rear, there are exceptions. The above is not a fully exhaustive list of exceptions. Each collision must be evaluated on its merits by a car accident attorney on a case-by-case basis in consideration of its unique facts, circumstances, and evidence tending to prove the liability of the respective drivers.