Imagine cruising down the 5 or 405 freeway when traffic starts to slow down. You stop with plenty of space between you and the car in front of you, but you feel a jolt from behind.
Rear-end collisions make up the most common type of car accident, up to 29% of all crashes as reported by one national survey. California is no different, where some years saw rear-end collisions make up nearly 50% of all crashes according to the Caltrans Annual Report. An overwhelming number of those crashes were caused by speeding.
If you’ve been rear-ended, if you’ve rear-ended someone else, or if you find yourself in a back-to-back collision with multiple cars, you’re probably wondering who’s at fault and what are your rights and legal options. It’s critical to get help from an experienced car accident lawyer who can help you determine what actually happened and protect your best interests.
What Law Determines Fault in California Car Accidents?
In California, whoever is responsible for causing a car accident is also legally responsible for paying for the damages that result from that accident. If you get injured, that would include financial compensation for your medical bills, lost work hours, and pain and suffering.
Insurance companies and courts determine fault by looking for evidence of negligence.
Essentially, negligence is the legal term for the social contract we all make when we go out into the world – an agreement to not put each other in unreasonable danger. In the context of traffic accidents, this means following all of the rules of the road, not speeding, not running stop signs or red lights, and not driving under the influence. Even distracted driving is a form of negligence because a driver’s legal duty is to focus on the road.
Sometimes, rear-end cases are simple and straightforward – one driver is 100% at fault and the other driver can recover the full cost of their damages from the at-fault driver. But life is often more complicated than that, which is why California has a comparative fault law.
Comparative fault works by dividing up legal responsibility by each person’s proportion of fault. For example, you may be 40% at fault because you rear-ended a stopped car, but the driver of the stopped car is 60% at fault for illegally double-parking on a busy street.
Who Is Usually at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?
In rear-end collisions, the presumption of fault usually falls on the driver who rear-ended the vehicle in front. This is based on the idea that every driver should keep a safe following distance and be prepared to stop or slow down when necessary.
If you’re driving the speed limit and following all the applicable traffic laws and someone rear-ends you, you can most likely hold that driver at fault for your injuries and damages.
But there are exceptions to this general rule. For example, as the car in front, if you stop suddenly for no reason or brake-check the car behind you, you could still be responsible. The exact circumstances of your accident will determine who’s at fault – but you may have to fight for the truth with evidence. Even the difference of a second could make or break your case.
Stopped cars and trucks can be extremely dangerous especially if they don’t have proper visibility. Our law firm recently won $10 million in damages in a case where our client rear-ended a truck stopped on the road without warning lights, flashers, or signs.
What If You Rear-End Someone Who Stops Suddenly?
Are you automatically at fault if you rear-end someone, even if they stop suddenly and without a valid reason? Maybe they’re looking for a parking spot so they slam on their brakes when they find one. Maybe they stop in the middle of traffic to let out a passenger where they shouldn’t.
Yes, it’s possible for the car in front to be partly responsible for a rear-end collision. However, this can be hard to prove unless you have very strong evidence – for example, dashcam footage or video footage from a nearby security camera that captures the accident.
Who Is at Fault in a 3-Car Rear-End Collision in California?
In an even more complex scenario involving 3 or more cars, determining who’s at fault and the proportion of fault between each driver can be an intricate puzzle.
In 3 or more car pileups, the car in front may share minimal or no fault in the crash, especially if they were rear-ended without contributing to the accident in any way. The second or middle car often carries the most fault for the collision, especially if they were responsible for the first impact. The third car might still be partially at fault if they were following too closely to the second car, making it impossible for them to avoid adding to the collision.
However, this scenario could still turn out differently if the second car actually stopped in time to avoid hitting the first car, after which the third car rear-ended the second car, causing the stopped car to roll forward and hit the first car in front. With these facts, it would be possible for the driver of the third car to be responsible for the entire accident.
Details matter. An experienced car accident lawyer will know where to look to find the details that matter the most to get you the financial compensation you deserve.
What Should You Do If You Get Rear-Ended in California?
After checking for injuries, exchanging insurance information, and filing a police report, you should talk to an attorney about your situation as soon as possible. With multiple parties involved in a crash, you want to move fast so that you can submit the facts as they happened before another driver has a chance to skew the narrative.
You also want to start collecting evidence right away, before the scene of the crash changes or witnesses start forgetting details of the accident. Your lawyer can help you find evidence that backs up your claims and deal with your insurance company for you.
At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, our dedicated legal team can help you put fault where it belongs. Contact us now to get started with your free consultation.