A common misconception that our accident lawyers see in rear-end collision cases is that the rear driver is always at fault. While rear drivers are commonly liable for these accidents, a lead driver may also face liability. Many factors determine how the courts assign fault in car accident cases. In Missouri, the courts may assign fault to either or both drivers.
When Rear Drivers Are At-Fault
In many rear-end accidents, the courts side with the front vehicle, because the rear driver had the opportunity to avoid the accident and failed to do so. Rear-end collisions often happen in heavily congested areas. Instead of following the recommended three-second rule to allow for reaction times, a rear vehicle will ride close behind other cars. When the lead car suddenly stops for a traffic backup, traffic signals, or a roadway hazard, the following vehicle can’t react in time.
These cases are generally open and shut because the rear driver knew or should have known the importance of maintaining an adequate distance. In other cases, however, fault lies with the front vehicle.
When Lead Drivers Are At-Fault
Every driver on the road is responsible for using a reasonable level of care. When lead drivers fail to act reasonably, they may contribute to a rear-ending accident. Recently, many online videos have highlighted a practice known as “brake checking.” A reaction to tailgating, brake checking occurs when a driver hits the brake hard to send a message to the tailgater. Technically, the brake checker does not have a legitimate reason to hit the brake. If the action causes a rear-end collision, the court may assign an equal or higher degree of fault to the brake checker.
Merging onto a highway is another instance where lead drivers are commonly at fault. In these cases, the driver already on the highway always has the right-of-way. Merging vehicles must anticipate and plan their merge accordingly. If a merging vehicle darts in front of oncoming traffic and causes a collision, that vehicle will likely face full liability in the incident.
Ultimately, fault in rear-end collisions comes down to reaction times. Did the lead vehicle give the rear vehicle enough time to appropriately react? Was the rear vehicle following at a reasonable distance and speed? These and other similar questions help investigators and courts assign fault in rear-end cases.
The Rules for Determining Fault in Missouri
In general, Missouri determines liability in car accidents using a comparative negligence doctrine. Under a comparative negligence rule, the courts will thoroughly evaluate the actions of both drivers to determine percentages of fault. They may rely on dash cam recordings, accident reconstruction evidence, eyewitness testimony, and other factors to identify negligent behaviors and compare driver actions.
A plaintiff’s percentage of fault will proportionately lower his or her damage award. For example, in a brake checking and tailgating case, the court may determine that the lead vehicle (brake checker) was 70% at fault for any resulting accident and personal injuries, and the tailgater was 30% at fault. The plaintiff who was tailgating at the time would lose 30% of his or her awarded compensation.
In Missouri, courts also use a rear-end collision doctrine to prove negligence. Under this doctrine, an injured front driver may establish that he or she correctly and rightfully operated the vehicle on the road, a vehicle rear-ended the lead vehicle, and that the front driver was not behaving negligently at the time. If a front driver can prove all three elements, he or she need not establish a more specific act of defendant negligence to prove total liability.
Rear-ending collisions can be tricky to investigate, and liability is not always straightforward. If you were injured in a rear-end collision, discuss the facts of your accident with a Kansas City car accident attorney who understands how Missouri handles rear-end collisions. Establishing fault is the first step in securing fair and full compensation for your losses.