by Dallas Car Accident Injury Attorney, Tim O’Hare
Rear-end collisions happen more than any other type of car accident in the United States and account for 29 percent of all car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A substantial number of injuries and deaths also occur each year as a result of rear-end collisions.
The majority of rear-end crashes happen when the front or leading vehicle is moving very slowly or stopped prior to the accident and is hit from behind. Most drivers believe the rear vehicle is always at fault due to following too closely, distracted driving or reckless driving. And while in many cases, it is true that the rear driver is at fault, you might be surprised to learn that the rear driver is not automatically at fault in a rear-end crash in Texas.
Who is at fault for a rear-end accident?
If a rear-end crash causes injury or death and results in a personal injury case, a jury can find that either the front or rear driver, both drivers, or neither driver is at fault in the collision. In order to win a personal injury case in Texas against another driver for injury or damages caused in a car accident, you must be able to prove that the other driver was negligent. This means the other driver failed to “act as a person of reasonable prudence would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.” The jury will be asked to appropriate liability or negligence to either, both or neither of the drivers in the accident.
When can the leading driver be found at fault in a rear-end accident in Texas?
If you rear-end someone in an accident, it can be difficult to prove that the other driver was at fault, but it is not impossible. In Texas, a “comparative negligence state,” you must be able to prove the other driver was negligent in order to win a claim against them. In other words, you must prove the other driver did something reckless or careless, such as pulling out in front of you and then slamming on their brakes.
This general rule explains why, more often than not, the following vehicle is found to be at fault. It can be difficult to prove the rear driver was not following too closely, therefore not leaving enough room to stop if needed. It is possible, however, that a jury will find the lead driver to be either partially or completely at fault for causing a rear-end collision if evidence shows the driver was negligent by cutting someone off, slowing unexpectedly or hitting the brakes when it was not safe to do so.
Here are some examples of rear-end collisions where the driver in front may be found to be at fault:
- A car pulls out into traffic, misjudging the distance between oncoming traffic and is hit from behind. Drivers pulling out of a parking lot or driveway must always yield right-of-way to drivers on the road.
- The front car suddenly slams on the brakes for no reason. These cases are rare and can still be difficult to prove the driver in the rear was not following too closely.
- The car in front changes lanes and suddenly hits their brakes, causing a rear-end collision. Again, these arguments can be difficult to prove.
What happens if both drivers are found to be at fault?
Texas is not an “all-or-nothing” state. This means that a jury must compare the responsibility of each driver involved in the accident to determine who is at fault. Often times, the jury will be asked to answer the question, “Did the negligence of any of the following persons proximately cause the motor vehicle accident in question?” The jury will then be given a list of names and must assign a “yes,” or “no” answer to each name.
If the jury finds that more than one person’s negligence contributed to the accident, they will then be asked to apportion liability to each driver in the form of a percentage. If you are injured in a rear-end accident in Texas and the percentage assigned to you by the jury exceeds 50 percent, you will be unable to recover any damages from the other driver. This is true even if the jury finds that you are only 51 percent responsible for the car accident.
If the jury finds that you are less than 50 percent responsible for the rear-end accident, and the other driver was more than 50 percent responsible, you will be able to recover some damages. If the other driver was found to be 80 percent responsible, and you were 20 percent responsible, you would be able to recover 80 percent of the amount awarded by the jury. (i.e. $8,000 of a $10,000 award.)
What happens if neither driver is found to be at fault in a rear-end collision?
Another scenario is that the jury finds it was an “unavoidable accident,” and therefore neither driver was at fault. For example, an animal darted into the road, causing the accident. If the jury finds it was an unavoidable accident, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages from the defendant. This is a common defense used by defense attorneys to help their client in a personal injury lawsuit.
Similar to the “unavoidable accident” defense, is the “sudden emergency defense.” In this case, the defendant must be able to prove that a sudden and unforeseeable emergency arose through no negligence of their own and that they responded to that emergency as any responsible and prudent person would have in the same circumstance, yet still the accident could not be avoided. In a personal injury trial, the jury will listen to both sides and decide who they think was at fault. In most cases, the jury will not be able to hear which driver, if any, received a traffic ticket for the accident, as criminal traffic tickets are not generally admissible in a civil liability case.
If you have been injured in a rear-end collision, you may be entitled to recover damages from the other driver for your injuries and lost property. Even if you were the driver in the rear, if the other driver cut you off or pulled out in front of you, you could win a personal injury lawsuit. But don’t try to win your case on your own. Seek the help of an experienced car accident lawyer who can help you navigate your lawsuit.
Contact a personal injury lawyer in the Dallas area who is experienced at proving fault in rear-end accidents in Texas. Contact The Law Offices of Tim O’Hare to speak with a car accident attorney today. We have offices in Dallas and Carrollton or will come to you if you prefer.
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