Rear-end collisions are common and usually happen because of speeding, distracted driving, traffic congestion, brake failure, and DUIs. While many people disregard these collisions as minor fender benders, victims can suffer serious and costly injuries in a rear-end car accident.
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How Close Is Too Close?
The old rule was to calculate a certain number of car lengths behind the car in front of you. However, cars come in many different lengths now, not to mention SUVs, trucks, and RVs. So, the standard now is that you should be at least three seconds behind the driver in front of you. This applies to the driver behind you, as well, and if they are too close, the risk of a rear-end collision increases.
This distance represents only the minimum safe space between cars. More space is better when available, especially if road conditions are less than ideal. Also, if you are driving a larger vehicle or towing a trailer, you will need more time to stop. Sadly, not every driver takes this safe distance into account.
You want some idea about your safe following distance so that you are less likely to rear-end the car in front of you. You can also notice if someone is risking a collision with your car’s rear. If someone follows too close behind you, it is not always possible to let them pass and avoid a rear-end collision.
Rear-end collisions are dangerous and common, representing nearly one-third of all accidents that result in serious injury.
Typical Causes of a Rear-End Collision
Most rear-end collisions occur when the front vehicle moves slowly or stops, and the rear driver travels too close (tailgating) to the front vehicle.
Other factors include:
- Distracted Driving – Distracted driving is the fastest-growing cause of traffic accidents, probably because people seem to want to do anything but drive when they are in their cars. Things happen fast on the road, and even the few seconds it takes to read a text can have life-shattering consequences. Texting, using a handheld cell phone, putting on makeup, and eating can all take your attention away from the road and your primary task of operating a multi-ton lethal weapon.
- Speeding – If a driver travels too fast to stop before hitting the car in front of them, they are simply traveling too fast for the road or traffic conditions.
- Inclement Weather – Weather conditions like rain, snow, and ice can make roads slippery and affect stopping distances. Bad weather can also affect how well drivers can see. Between these, bad weather can cause a lot of rear-end collisions.
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Typical Injuries After a Rear-End Collision
Modern safety devices often reduce the number and severity of injuries in rear-end collisions. Nonetheless, injuries do occur, and the more common ones include:
- Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion – A concussion that can be mild to severe occurs when the brain is tossed about inside the skull, causing bruising and tearing to the sensitive tissue. Even at slow speeds, a concussion can happen. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially fatal complications. The mild TBI or concussion designation relates only to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to the victim’s overall prognosis. TBIs that medical professionals initially deem mild can still result in serious, lasting effects and complications. If a doctor diagnoses you with any TBI, watch for any symptoms, complications, or lingering effects.
- Whiplash – Essentially caused by the same violent jolting of the head that causes concussions, whiplash is one of the most common injuries from a rear-end collision since the head keeps moving after the vehicle stops. Potential collisions with the steering wheel or headrest may occur, and soft tissues in the neck can result in long-term chronic pain and loss of mobility.
- Spinal Cord Injuries – The sudden, unexpected impact of a car from behind can damage the spine in various ways. The vertebral joints can be jolted or overextended, leading to severe neck and back injuries. Fractures in those same vertebrae may occur, especially if the collision happens at high speed. Fractures, slipped or herniated discs, and even permanent or temporary damage to the spinal cord itself can decimate the victim’s daily life. Life-shattering loss of sensation or motion can occur, especially if the damage is high on the spinal cord, leaving the victim with significant paralysis.
- Injuries to the Driver’s Arms and Shoulders – If the driver is holding the steering wheel at the moment of impact, their arms, wrists, and shoulders will absorb some force. This can cause sprained wrists, stress fractures of the arm bones, tendon damage, and even dislocated shoulders. If the airbag deploys, that force can also cause arm and wrist injuries.
- Broken Bones and Fractured Ribs – Broken bones can be caused by the airbag deploying or by stress against the seatbelt. Especially dangerous are fractured ribs that can result. Fractured ribs can puncture a lung or damage other internal organs, leading to internal bleeding. When it occurs, Internal bleeding can lead to shock and even death if not treated within a few hours. Flying debris can strike and break other bones. If the debris strikes the face, lacerations, bruises, scrapes, broken facial bones, and broken or loosened teeth can result. Facial injuries, in turn, can lead to permanent scarring and disfigurement.
- Crushed Limbs and Paralysis – More serious fractures and crushing injuries to bones often follow at high speeds. These injuries, especially the crushing injuries, can lead to the loss of a limb or permanent loss of function in that limb.
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What Damages Can You Recover After a Rear-End Collision?
The law recognizes three types of damages in personal injury cases.
Economic Damages are relatively easy to prove, usually with the help of a paid invoice or wage statement.
These damages represent easily ascertainable, out-of-pocket losses like:
- Medical and hospital costs
- Lost wages
- Mental health services and counseling
- Rehab and assistive devices
- Property damages, including possible replacement of the vehicle
Non-Economic Damages are more subjective and less easy to prove than economic damages. Also, because they are not based on specific documents but rather on future projections, the victim may need expert testimony to establish the amount of the loss.
Non-economic damages can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Disfigurement and related psychological issues
- Loss of motor function
- Loss of cognitive function
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional or mental disorders
Punitive Damages do not compensate the victim, although the victim does receive them. Rather, punitive damages punish the at-fault driver and deter others from engaging in the same bad conduct. To receive punitive damages, the victim must prove reckless disregard for the well-being of others or intentional misconduct. Punitive damages are rare but possible in some car accident cases.
Damages Not Capped – Some states, like New York, do not cap or limit the amount you may recover in a car accident lawsuit.
Who Is at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?
Not surprisingly, the driver in the rear is usually at fault in a rear-end collision. The driver in the rear who may have been inattentive, traveling too fast for conditions, or tailgating is most commonly at fault.
However, the driver in front can be at fault by:
- Failing to use hazard lights when necessary
- Not removing a disabled vehicle from travel lanes
- Suddenly stopping without warning
- Suddenly reversing the vehicle
- Changing lanes without a signal
How Do You Prove Fault in a Rear-End Collision?
In a rear-end collision, the at-fault and liable driver is usually pretty easy to spot. Almost always, it will be the driver of the rear vehicle.
Plaintiffs can use evidence to prove the other driver’s liability. Eyewitness testimony of those who saw the accident may help. The police report may include evidence that supports your position, particularly if it contains drawings. Evidence at the scene, such as skid marks and debris, can also be helpful (that’s why you always want to take pictures of your scene).
Sometimes you will need expert testimony. These experts can examine and explain the physical evidence to determine specific facts about the accident. Finally, your lawyer can present expert testimony about vehicle design or defects if there is a question about one of the vehicles involved.
Steps to Take After a Rear-End Collision
After a rear-end collision, protect your right to compensation.
To do this:
- Don’t Admit Fault & Don’t Apologize – It’s almost always true that if you get rear-ended, the other guy is at fault. Common exceptions include things like the front car backing up or slamming on their brakes for no apparent reason and with no warning. That’s why you don’t admit fault. If you do, that’s what the law calls an admission against interest, and the other party will use it against you in any settlement negotiations or court cases.
- Get Medical Help – You should get medical treatment as soon as possible at the scene if EMTs are present or in the emergency room. Injuries will not always be immediately evident to you, but a medical record on the day of the accident will help with later diagnosis, treatment, and your insurance claim. Some of the symptoms to watch out for are:
- Dizziness or difficulty with balance
- Neck stiffness or pain
- Loss of range of motion in neck or spine
- Headaches that don’t get better
- Fatigue that isn’t related to your activity
- Numbness or tenderness in the shoulders, upper back, arms, or fingers
- Have Your Lawyer Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company – Your policy often requires a report within a relatively short window after your accident, even if someone else is to blame. If you need to file an uninsured motorist claim or another type of claim in the future, your insurer will need timely notice. However, you can still say the wrong thing to jeopardize your financial recovery to your own insurance company, which is why you want your car accident lawyer to handle this communication.
- Do Not Communicate with the Other Driver’s Insurance Company – The insurer of the at-fault driver will likely reach out to ask questions about the accident. While they might seem friendly, it is always risky to speak with them. You might say something small or offhand that leads the adjuster to question what happened or the severity of your injuries. Always have your car accident attorney handle all communications and negotiations with insurers. Most importantly, never accept a settlement offer without first consulting with a lawyer.
- Stay off of Social Media – The insurance companies and the defendant’s lawyers are aware of social media. They will be looking for statements you make online that disagree with your claims about the case. Don’t give them anything to work with.
- Hire a car accident attorney – This is perhaps the most important thing you can do after getting medical attention. Even if you believe your accident was minor, you deserve full compensation for your injury-related losses, and you need an attorney to ensure you receive the total amount you need. Insurance companies take advantage of unrepresented claimants, but they know they cannot use the same tactics on experienced car accident lawyers.
How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help?
If you retained an attorney early on, that attorney can do much of this work for you, relieving you of the stress of fighting with insurance companies. This delegation will allow you to focus on the process of recovering physically and emotionally while your attorney concentrates on your financial recovery.
Not only does a lawyer relieve your stress regarding the legal process, but they will also secure you more financial compensation.