Disaster usually comes when we least suspect it, and it can come from just about any direction. A rear-end collision is a moment that catches you unaware as you watch helplessly in the rearview mirror as someone plows into your vehicle from behind. Unfortunately, rear-end collisions are common and levy a large amount of damage. That damage goes beyond your vehicle and extends to your life and livelihood. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you after a rear-end collision.
What is a rear-end collision?
A rear-end collision is when one driver hits another vehicle from behind with the front of their vehicle. The vehicle that was hit might be stationary or driving down the road. An impact while in motion is especially dangerous as it might cause the car to lose control and veer into oncoming traffic or strike other vehicles.
Safety features on most vehicles focus on the side and head-on impacts. Rear-end collisions might leave you vulnerable to injury you might not experience otherwise. Airbag sensors are typically in the vehicle’s front bumper and side panels. The motion of the force coming from behind in an accident might not activate airbags, or it may activate them due to the concussive force, without any real purpose, resulting in expensive repairs and replacements or burns from the propellant in the airbags themselves.
Causes of rear-end collision
Many different factors can contribute to a rear-end collision.
Here is a breakdown of what could cause an accident of this kind.
- Driving inappropriately for the weather: Weather such as blowing dust, fog, rain, and snow can also limit visibility or traction and decrease a driver’s ability to stop. Drivers who don’t consider road conditions when they follow other vehicles are putting others in danger.
- Vehicles stopped on the side of the road: Either because of traffic limiting a driver’s field of vision or simply not paying attention, cars stopped on the road are often hit from behind on the highway. In many places, traffic laws have changed to require motorists to get to the outside lane or reduce their speed by at least 20 mph for emergency vehicles making traffic stops or disabled vehicles on the side of the road.
- Visual impairment: Drivers themselves may be visually impaired, which is often the case for elderly drivers or drivers with visual impairments such as astigmatism. Corrective eyeglasses are required for drivers with poor eyesight. Cracked windshields might also create a level of impairment in seeing your surroundings.
- Following too closely: One of the most common reasons for rear-end collisions is following too closely. A driver following too closely has very little time to react.
- Reckless driving: Drag racing, weaving through traffic, and even lane splitting can result in rear-end collisions.
- Inexperience/impairment: Inexperienced drivers, elderly drivers with a significant reduction in reflexes and vision problems, and even people with disabilities that limit reaction time could cause collisions. For example, someone fighting to stay awake as they are driving might not be able to react quickly enough to hit the brakes before the moment of impact.
- Drunk/impaired driver: Being impaired while using substances is all too common in rear-end collisions. Drugs and alcohol limit drivers’ reaction times or decrease their attention spans. Intoxication affects the lives of more than just the driver in these cases and is an unfortunate and unnecessary cause of a life-changing event like this.
- Distracted driver: Cellular phone use is nearly as dangerous as drunk driving, especially while texting. Studies have shown a significant reduction in being able to react to a situation resulting in an accident. Other passengers distracting the driver are also a cause of accidents, whether it is arguing, talking, throwing things inside the vehicle, or other ways. Sometimes drivers are distracted by other accidents and cause chain-reaction rear-end collisions.
- Faulty vehicle: Your brakes, steering, and even the condition of your windshield wipers contribute to your vehicle’s ability to respond to your controls. Soft or squishy brakes can increase the distance needed to stop, whereas stuck accelerators or throttle valves can override a driver’s need to brake. Some vehicles have been recalled due to onboard computers causing their motors to over-accelerate, resulting in collisions.
Who is at fault?
Many states work on the concept that the responsibility of avoiding a rear-end collision weighs heavily on the driver following since they have the most control in allowing enough distance between themselves and the driver ahead of them. There are all sorts of factors involved when it comes to determining fault. Operational brake lights, or even intent to cause an accident by the person ahead, might be considered.
In most cases, the fault is often determined by a simple “hammer and nail” model, in which the vehicle following is the hammer and the vehicle in front is the nail. The hammer determines whether or not the nail is struck. Many cars have onboard cameras that can determine fault in the investigation and trial process. Your attorney can help you with questions regarding fault and how to address this in court.
What to do after the accident
A rear-end collision is a serious event.
If someone rear-ends you:
- Don’t panic: Trying to remain calm as you struggle with injuries, repairing your vehicle, calling insurance companies, and dealing with getting your life back on track is going to be a full-time job. Panic will only make it worse. Your attorney can help take a lot off your plate in these times.
- Take care of yourself: Go to your doctor’s appointments, focus on your health and recovery, and practice self-care in constructive ways. Continue with physical therapy.
- Try to acclimate to changes: If the accident has resulted in serious injuries or even death, you are likely grieving. Grief comes in many forms and trying to normalize it may help you move forward after these serious life changes. Go to therapy to address these feelings and trauma. You have been through a lot, and even if there has been no loss of life, you may still be grieving the loss of the way things once were.
- Document everything: Use your smartphone to take pictures of insurance cards, take notes, and stay organized. Collect copies of bills, receipts for repairs, and any other financial information about the accident and your care. Make hardcopy duplicates. Get contact information from both witnesses and law enforcement. This information will be vital when discussing the accident with your attorney.
Not all rear-end collision accidents require litigation. In a no-fault state, you turn to your injury protection insurance first and then to the at-fault party’s insurer if injuries and losses exceed the limits. In other states, you typically seek compensation from the at-fault party’s insurer first.
A loss on your vehicle and even medical bills might exceed the amount specified on your policy, in which case you will have to pursue a legal judgment for appropriate compensation. If the at-fault party doesn’t have insurance, an attorney can help you uncover sources of compensation.
Here are some potential economic losses:
- Vehicle repair: From minor dings to complete loss on your vehicle, repair or replacement could cost a lot of time and money. Just the rear panels, bumper, or fenders of a mid-range, late model car can reach thousands of dollars.
- Loss of vehicle: A rear-end collision can result in a total loss, which insurance companies will try to lowball to protect their bottom line and save money. If your vehicle was totaled, the replacement value might not be adequate to replace anything.
- Loss of value: Accidents are often reported on your car’s title history, and attempting to sell your vehicle with an accident listed will affect your resale value negatively.
- Transportation costs: While the mechanic repairs your vehicle, or if the crash totaled it, you need to get to and from work somehow. This might include mass transit, renting a car, or other means. Finding other ways to get to work, doctors’ appointments, and even court might negatively impact your livelihood in other ways, further reducing your income.
- Loss of work: Whether you are in the hospital recovering from your injuries or simply needing to find other ways to get around, the loss of your vehicle can result in loss of work. In an economy where many people use their vehicles to make their income, such as ride-share services or delivery drivers, the loss of a vehicle directly affects the loss of income.
What kinds of injuries are common?
Rear-end collisions are often severe because the struck vehicle might not be moving, and the forces inflicted upon it may be substantial.
Here are some common rear-end collision injuries.
- Traumatic brain injury: The central nervous system is a very delicate and specialized system of nerves, organs, and skeletal systems. More severe impacts can lead to bleeding deeper inside the brain. The added pressure increases damage, causing brain damage and even death.
- Whiplash: Whiplash and shoulder soft tissue injuries affect the area where the spine attaches to the skull and can result in nerve damage and even permanent injury such as partial paralysis. Whiplash is especially common with rear-end collisions due to the nature of the impact.
- Broken bones: Neck and skull fractures are common, but rear-end impacts can result in broken fingers, legs, ribs, and arms, among other bones.
- Cuts: Flying glass and metal debris contribute to cuts and abrasions. Objects inside the car might also be dislodged by these inertial forces and hit passengers during an impact.
- Burns: Despite safeguards in controlling impact damage such as crumple zones and reinforced body construction, a rear-end collision might leave you vulnerable to hot coolant from an exploded radiator or even a breached fuel tank that catches on fire. Even deployed airbags can burn you with their propellant.
The recovery process
Recovery from a serious rear-end collision can take several weeks, months, or even the rest of your life, depending on the nature of the injuries. Not only are you dealing with potential permanent disabilities due to TBI, but you could be looking at painful rehabilitation, physical therapy, and even psychological therapy to deal with the trauma of the event.
If you suffered a permanent disability or an accident killed a passenger, you may need to rebuild your life despite the pain and suffering one split second caused you.
How an attorney can help after a rear-end collision
The court process can be very nuanced. An attorney can help you navigate the process to get you the compensation you deserve. From negotiating with your insurance company for medical bills and repair/replacement of your vehicle or even going to court for compensation, litigation can be very confusing. Most claims do not go to court, but some do.
As you recover and try to piece your life back together, an attorney can help you with deadlines, negotiation, discovery, and even fighting to protect your rights if there is a dispute as to who is at fault. An attorney can use the information gathered from the time of the accident, along with your medical bills and other losses, as leverage in deciding a settlement amount. If you cannot agree, a judge can determine this in court.