Who is At Fault in a Rear End Collision?

Who is At Fault in a Rear End Collision?

Car accidents are a leading cause of death in the US, with a total of 42,795 traffic deaths occurring in 2022. Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of car accidents. They accounted for 17.9% of all traffic collisions in 2021, making it the third leading cause of motor vehicle deaths that year. If you were injured in a rear-end collision, understanding who is at fault is crucial to getting the justice and financial compensation you deserve. The car accident attorneys at Esquire Law are here to help. We’ll work with you to build a strong case so we can achieve the results you want.

What Constitutes a Rear-End Collision?

A rear-end collision occurs when a vehicle collides with the vehicle in front of it, usually due to the front car stopping suddenly and/or the rear car following too closely. Poor road and weather conditions are additional leading causes of these accidents. Rear-end collisions can occur anywhere but are most common at intersections, stop signs, and in heavy traffic.

Here are some scenarios that constitute a rear-end collision:

  1. The rear vehicle slowly rolled into the front vehicle.
  2. The rear vehicle was traveling at a high speed and ran into a stopped vehicle.
  3. The rear vehicle was traveling faster than the front vehicle, and the vehicles collided while moving.
  4. The front driver suddenly stopped or braked without warning.
  5. The front driver’s brake lights were out.

General Rule of Fault in Rear-End Collisions

One of the most difficult steps in the aftermath of a rear-end collision is determining who is at fault. Some states have what’s called a presumptive law, which typically places all the blame for a rear-end collision on the rear driver. After all, isn’t it safe to assume the rear driver would cause a rear-end collision? Not as safe as you would think.

Determining fault in a rear-end collision can be more complex. While most people automatically assume it’s the rear driver’s fault, that’s not always the case. The accident might have been caused solely by the front driver or partially caused by the front and rear drivers. In more complicated situations, three or more drivers might be involved. The blame doesn’t have to fall entirely on one person. With that said, it’s often more difficult to prove that the front driver acted negligently or recklessly, given the nature of rear-end collisions.

Exceptions to the Rule

Although the rear driver is usually at fault for a rear-end collision, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are situations in which the front driver is partially or fully responsible, such as:

  • Swerving: If a vehicle traveling directly in front of you swerves into your lane, you likely won’t have time to move out of the way to avoid running into it. If the driver who swerved was being reckless or wasn’t paying attention at the time of the accident, they could be held liable for the damages caused.
  • Brake checking: Brake checking is illegal in all 50 states. Whether it’s in response to a rear driver following too closely or out of pure aggression, a front driver who brake-checks will be held at least partially responsible if an accident occurs.
  • Improper turns: A vehicle that enters your lane without yielding the right of way to you can cause a crash. In this scenario, the front driver could bear all the responsibility for the accident.
  • Failing to signal: Failing to signal before turning or changing lanes increases the risk of an accident, particularly a rear-end accident. If the driver behind you doesn’t know your intent to turn or change lanes, they might run right into you. Even if the rear driver was following too closely, the front driver would still be partially at fault for failing to signal.
  • Non-functioning brake lights: You can’t predict when your brake lights will go out, but you’re still responsible for repairing or replacing them when they do. If a driver runs into the vehicle in front of them because one or both brake lights are out, the front driver could be held liable.
  • Back-up accidents: You’re walking back to your car after a long day at the office only to find someone else has backed into it. What do you do? File a claim against the other driver. Since they were the only driver involved in the accident, they will most likely bear all the blame.

Determining Fault in Multi-Vehicle Rear-End Collisions

Some rear-end collisions involve more than two vehicles. These are known as multi-vehicle or chain reaction accidents because the rear vehicle runs into another vehicle which runs into another vehicle, and so on. Determining fault in multi-vehicle rear-end collisions is complicated since multiple drivers could be partially at fault.

Third parties, such as car manufacturers or government agencies, might also be held liable for an accident. Third parties are those not present at the time of the crash who still contributed in some way to the events that occurred. For example, a faulty brake system falls under the obligation of the vehicle’s manufacturer, assuming no recall notice was sent to the owner of the vehicle before the collision.

The Role of Each Driver

The moment a driver gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, they owe what’s called a duty of care to every other driver on the road. When a driver breaches—or violates—this duty of care, they can be considered negligent. These four elements that must be present to establish negligence in a car accident case:

  • Duty: The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • Breach: The defendant breached their duty of care to the plaintiff.
  • Causation: This breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • Damages: The plaintiff suffers some form of identifiable harm—whether physical, psychological, or financial—as a result of their injuries.

The best way to prevent negligent driving and reduce the risk of accidents is to engage in safe driving practices. Let’s take a look at the core responsibilities of different drivers every time they get on the road.

Front Driver

  • Give rear drivers enough time to react to braking and other actions impacting a vehicle’s acceleration or direction of travel

Rear Driver

  • Maintain a safe following distance at all times, especially in hazardous road or weather conditions

All Drivers

  • Drive with caution
  • Yield the right of way to other drivers
  • Follow all traffic laws and regulations

The Legal Implications of Fault

The plaintiff in a rear-end collision case seeks financial compensation, also known as compensatory damages, from the defendant. Even though the plaintiff—typically the front driver—is the one seeking compensation, they might still be partially at fault. So where does this leave them?

Arizona and Utah both practice what’s called comparative negligence, a legal principle that distributes compensation among parties involved in an accident based on their degree of fault. This means that if the plaintiff is partially at fault for the accident, they can still recover compensation from the defendant. Their compensation is simply reduced by the percentage of fault they contributed. Here’s how it works in each state:


Arizona is a pure comparative negligence state. Under this principle, the plaintiff can be up to 99% at fault for a rear-end collision and still seek compensation. Let’s say a total of $50,000 is awarded in a case involving a plaintiff who is 99% at fault for cutting off the car behind them and a defendant who is 1% at fault for not braking in time.

Even though the plaintiff is 99% at fault, they would still receive $500 for the 1% of fault they didn’t contribute. The defendant would receive the remaining $49,500. If the plaintiff had been 100% at fault, they would receive no compensation.


Utah is a modified comparative negligence state. Under this principle, the plaintiff can be up to 49% at fault for a rear-end collision and still seek compensation. If $50,000 is awarded in a case where the plaintiff is 49% at fault for failing to signal before turning right at an intersection and a defendant is 51% at fault for following too closely.

However, if the plaintiff is 49% at fault, they would still receive $25,500 for the 51% of fault they didn’t contribute. The defendant would receive the remaining $24,500. If the plaintiff had been 50% at fault, they would receive no compensation.

Evidence and Investigation in Rear-End Collisions

Evidence is the foundation of any accident claim. Without sufficient evidence, a plaintiff risks losing their case, consequently losing out on any compensation they otherwise could have received. Sufficient evidence is required to prove the defendant acted negligently, which is required to establish fault. Establishing fault is the first step in proving the plaintiff’s claims about the other driver are true.

Your attorney will perform a thorough investigation of the accident to gather enough evidence to build a strong case. Here are some key pieces of evidence in a rear-end collision case:

  • Camera footage
  • Photos and video of the scene
  • Eyewitness statements
  • Medical bills
  • Documentation of property damage

The Role of an Attorney in Rear-End Collision Cases

Investigating the accident isn’t the only thing your lawyer will do for you. Here are some additional services your attorney will provide to ensure your case is successful.

  • Explain your legal rights and options
  • Provide reliable legal advice
  • Consult specialists such as medical professionals and forensic investigators
  • Gather documentation outlining your accident-related expenses
  • Calculate your financial and emotional losses
  • Interview eyewitnesses
  • Negotiate a settlement with insurance companies
  • Represent your case in court

Don’t wait to secure the compensation you need to cover expenses resulting from your rear-end collision. Contact Esquire Law today to get the help you need. Our lawyers are here to support you every step of the way.

We’ll Help You Navigate the Aftermath of Your Rear-End Collision

Navigating the aftermath of a rear-end collision is complicated. Without ample experience and legal expertise, you’re bound to make mistakes that could cost you your rightful compensation.

Let Esquire Law handle your case instead so you can receive the compensation you deserve. We’ll do whatever it takes to hold the driver who rear-ended you accountable for their actions. Contact us today to get started with a free case evaluation. We’ll discuss the details of your case and make an action plan.

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