Home Car Accidents Who’s at Fault if I Rear-Ended Someone Who Stopped Suddenly?
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Who’s at Fault if I Rear-Ended Someone Who Stopped Suddenly?

I rear-ended someone who stopped suddenly on the highway – am I at fault? That’s a common question regarding rear-end collisions. 

Typically, the person who does the rear-ending is at fault; however, that can be different when the person in the front vehicle stops suddenly. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 29% of car accidents are rear-end collisions, so whether you rear-ended someone who stopped suddenly or got rear-ended while stopped, you are most definitely not alone in wondering who is at fault. 

In addition, depending on what state or territory you live in, the question may not be, “Am I at fault,” but rather, “what percentage of the fault here falls on me, and how does that impact my payout or settlement?”

While the person who rear-ends the other vehicle is typically at fault, there are factors that can shift the fault or result in shared liability. Here are some common examples of this shift in fault or liability:

  •  If the front driver stops suddenly, reverses suddenly, “brake-checks” the rear driver by braking for no reason
  • if the driver in front continues to drive with a flat tire or other mechanical hazard 
  • If they fail to repair a broken brake light or other faulty lighting equipment.

Examples of Rear-End Collision Laws Across the US

To give you some perspective on rear-end collision laws governing situations where someone stops suddenly, let’s head over to Florida, Texas, and California, among other selected states. 

Florida Rear-End Collision Laws 

In Florida, the rear driver is considered to be at fault; however, the state also uses the modified comparative fault system, so both drivers’ actions will be compared and weighed against each other. 

This means that, for example, several factors will be considered in determining who is at fault in a 40 mph rear-end collision. 

Florida laws prohibit a driver from following another vehicle too closely, a law that will certainly be considered in determining fault. This means that if you were in the second vehicle and the car in front of you stopped suddenly, you may be the one at fault if you were too close behind the vehicle in front.

Texas Rear-End Collision Laws

Texas also uses a comparative approach to such cases, often known as the principle of proportionate responsibility. Again, this means that the actions of both parties involved in an accident will be considered. If the person in the front vehicle, or the vehicle who is rear-ended, stops suddenly, that will be taken into consideration in an analysis of fault. 

If one party is determined to be 25% responsible for a rear-end collision, then the damages awarded are reduced by 25%, and that party will only receive 75% of the settlement or verdict.

California Rear-End Collision Laws

Similarly, California also uses a comparative negligence standard. The fault of each party is compared, and damages and settlements are awarded accordingly. While the following driver has certain responsibilities, including not following too closely, traveling at a safe speed for roadway conditions, and not texting or using a mobile device, the driver in the front vehicle also has certain responsibilities. 

These responsibilities include not stopping suddenly. If you were involved in rear-end collision because the person in the first vehicle stopped suddenly, you may not be at fault, or your fault may be reduced because of the other driver’s actions.

Rear-End Collision Laws in Other States

Other states that use a comparative negligence standard in determining fault in a rear-end collision are Montana, Connecticut, New Mexico, Vermont, Texas, Indiana, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois, South Carolina, Utah, Arkansas, Delaware, Minnesota, Florida, Oregon, Georgia, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Idaho, Oklahoma, Ohio, Washington, Colorado, Louisiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Arizona, Virginia, Nevada, Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kansas, New Hampshire, Wyoming, New York, and Alaska.

Of these, there are several different types of comparative negligence. As of 2023, a total of 12 states utilize what’s called a pure comparative negligence standard, where the fault of the person collecting damages, a payout, or a settlement reduces the amount of damages rewarded. 

Under this system, if a person is found to be 99% at fault in one of these twelve states, their payout is reduced by 99%, and they can only collect 1% of the cost from the other individual. 

These twelve states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. 

Of the remaining states that use a comparative negligence standard, either a 50% or 51% approach is used. In these states, if a person is found to be either 50% or 51% at fault or responsible for any damages or injuries, that person cannot recover at all.

Five jurisdictions (four states and the District of Columbia) use a pure contributory negligence standard. 

In these five jurisdictions, a person cannot recover damages if they are found to be negligent at all, even if only 1% at fault. 

In addition to the District of Columbia, these states are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. 

Finally, South Dakota has its own standard to determine negligence and how much a person can recover based upon their fault in a rear-end collision. This is called a “slight/gross comparative negligence.” 

Rather than determining what percentage of fault someone has in an accident, a judge or jury must decide if a person is slightly negligent or grossly negligent. If this sounds confusing and complicated, that’s because it is. 

It can be far more difficult to determine if someone can get money in a settlement or payout when a jury must decide if that person was slightly or grossly negligent, as these are more subjective standards than determining what percentage of fault a person holds. S

Suppose you have any questions about what your liability is, who was at fault, and what this means for your insurance payout or settlement amount. In that case, you should consider consulting with a personal injury attorney.

Regardless of which vehicle you were in, if you were involved in a rear-end collision, you should consider contacting a personal injury attorney. A skilled attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected and that you get a fair payout or settlement. The attorney can also review a case, gather all necessary documentation, and help determine fault – especially in comparative negligence.

What Is the Average Payout for a Rear-End Collision?

In 2019, the average compensation for property damage sustained by personally owned vehicles varied. Specifically, damage inflicted on other vehicles resulted in an average payout of $3,450, while damage sustained by the insured’s own vehicle led to an average payout of $4,202. These figures culminated in a combined average payout of $4,855.

For commercial vehicles, the numbers were even higher. In 2018, for instance, the average payout for property damage to commercial vehicles reached an overall average of $5,663. 

Notably, data from that time revealed that the comprehensive cost of a rear-end accident occurring at signalized intersections averaged a substantial $26,700. 

It is reasonable to assume that these figures have escalated further due to rising costs, potentially resulting in even larger settlements for rear-end collisions when a stationary vehicle is impacted.

The specific payout you might receive hinges on several factors. These include the extent of damage incurred, the determination of fault between the involved parties, and the legal framework for negligence established by your state. 

To navigate these intricacies, enlisting the guidance of a personal injury attorney is advisable. Such an expert can assist in ascertaining fault, elucidating your state’s fault determination rules, and advocating for the most favorable insurance payout or settlement tailored to your unique circumstances.

Rear-Ended Someone. How Much Will My Insurance Go Up?

The amount of an insurance increase after a rear-end accident will depend on your insurance carrier and the type of damage. A rear-end collision where there is only property damage, for example, will result in a lower increase than a rear-end collision where there is bodily injury as well. 

A recent analysis by Forbes showed that State Farm had the lowest average rate increase with 21% following a property damage-only accident, while Geico clocked the highest average rate increase at 73% for an at-fault, property damage-only accident.

While the United Services Automobile Association had a high increase in insurance rates after a rear-end collision, that company still had one of the lower rates overall; however, then USAA only insures military servicemembers and their families.

If this is your first accident within the last several years – or your first accident ever – you should check with your auto insurance company to see if your plan has accident forgiveness. 

Some insurance companies won’t raise your rates if you have been accident-free for a certain period of time, or if this is your first-ever accident. You should contact your insurance agent to learn more, and a personal injury attorney may help determine your level of fault and how this impacts your rates.

What Are Some Rear-End Collision Settlement Examples?

A Florida-based law firm discloses two rear-end settlements: one amounting to $35,000 and another reaching a substantial $450,000.

 Across state lines, a Pennsylvania legal practice secures an impressive $2,000,000 payout for a client who sustained a severe head injury due to a rear-end collision. 

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, an attorney achieves a noteworthy settlement of $3,596,360 for the family of an individual tragically killed by a semi-truck rear-ending her vehicle. 

On a national scale, a prominent law firm reports a series of diverse settlements, including a notable $1,000,000 resolution in Tennessee and an exceptional $7,000,000 settlement in Pennsylvania.

These instances underscore a compelling point: while the initial property damage might appear modest in rear-end collisions, the average settlement for the rear-ended party significantly elevates when factoring in intangible factors such as pain and suffering, medical expenses, emotional distress, and lost income.

READ ALSO | How Much Is a Rear-End Collision Worth?

Engaging the services of a personal injury attorney becomes paramount in pursuing the optimal settlement tailored to your specific situation. If you have sustained injuries or property damage in a rear-end collision, it is advisable to consider seeking consultation or representation from a skilled attorney to ensure you obtain the most favorable resolution possible.

Written by
Kendra Strobel

Kendra Strobel, Esq. is a 2017 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She is now a Pennsylvania based litigation attorney. During law school, she served as the President of the Pitt Law Women’s Association and class representative for various other organizations. She is a member of her local bar association, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Women Lawyers.

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