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Who’s At-Fault for Rear Accidents?

damaged cars on the highway at the scene of an accident

A rear-end collision occurs when the front of one car collides with the backside of another. Rear-end accidents are the most common type of car crash nationwide. Many people believe that, in a rear accident, the car in the back is always at fault. Is this true? Can the driver in front ever be at fault, or even some other party? Continue reading to learn about liability after a rear-end collision. For help after a rear-end collision or other crash in Dallas or statewide, call a seasoned Texas car accident attorneyat the Turley Law Firm for assistance and representation.

The Typical Case: The Driver in Rear Is to Blame

Under most circumstances, the prevailing assumption is actually right: The rear driver is usually responsible for a rear-end collision. Drivers are expected to maintain sufficient space between themselves and the next vehicle ahead in order to give themselves time to react to a sudden stop or other hazards. Drivers who hit a vehicle stopped at an appropriate time (stop sign, red light, etc.), as well as drivers who tailgate, drive while distracted, drive while impaired, or otherwise fail to stop or swerve in time to avoid a crash will, indeed, be held liable for injuries and other damages caused by the accident.

It is not true, however, that the driver in the rear is always at fault. Under certain circumstances, other parties–even the driver in the front vehicle–may be liable.

When Can a Lead Driver Be Liable?

There are a number of ways in which the lead driver can be partially or even totally at fault for an accident. If the lead driver is to blame, then the rear driver might be able to offset their liability or even collect damages from the lead driver, depending on the circumstances. The lead or front car may be liable in a rear-end condition when for example:

  • The lead driver merged onto a freeway unsafely (without sufficient space or without speeding up to the flow of traffic, for example);
  • The lead driver made an unsafe lane change (without checking or without signaling, for example);
  • The lead driver pulled out from a parking lot or parking space into the road in an unsafe manner;
  • The lead driver hit the brakes or made a full stop when it was not necessary and when it was not safe to do so.

Under these circumstances, the judge and/or jury would have to analyze the conduct of all parties to determine who may be partially or totally liable.

Comparative Fault in Texas

Texas is known as a “comparative negligence” state. That means that multiple parties can be liable at the same time for a given incident, including the plaintiff. A plaintiff’s recovery can be offset by their percentage of fault.

Let’s say, for example, a drunk driver darts out onto a freeway without checking or matching the speed of traffic and is rear-ended by another driver. The driver of the second vehicle was texting at the time, however, and may have been able to avoid or mitigate the crash if they had been paying full attention. A judge or jury might find the drunk driver 80% responsible and the texting driver 20% responsible. If the texting driver incurred $10,000 in damages, their total award would be reduced by their percentage of fault–20%, or $2,000–down to a maximum $8,000 recovery.

Texas is a “modified” comparative fault state, which means that a plaintiff can only recover if the defendant was at least 51% responsible for the accident. In the drunk driving example, the drunk driver would not be able to sue the texting driver for their injuries because the texting driver was only 20% at fault.

Third-Party Liability

In some cases, none of the drivers involved are truly to blame for a rear-end collision. If the negligence or recklessness of a third party contributed to or outright caused the accident, then that third party may be partially or totally responsible. Third parties may be liable in circumstances like the following:

  • If a pedestrian ran into the middle of the road without having the right-of-way, causing the lead driver to slam their brakes unexpectedly, the pedestrian might be partially or totally responsible.

  • If either vehicle malfunctioned because of a defective car part, and that malfunction led to the crash (such as brake failure), the automaker or the manufacturer of the specific auto part could be liable.

  • If the accident was caused by poor roadway design or a roadway left in disrepair (potholes, felled trees, washed-out lane lines, etc.), the state or municipality responsible for designing and maintaining the roads may be liable.

Unavoidable Collisions

In some circumstances, an accident is entirely unavoidable and is no one’s fault. If an accident occurs because a wild animal or herd ran into the road, for example, or due to an “act of god” (tornado, hurricane, lightning, etc.), then no individual is actually to blame. Anyone injured would have to seek benefits under their own health or auto insurance policy.

If you or a family member has been injured in a Texas car crash, please contact the Turley Law Firm online or call 214-691-4025 or email today to schedule your free consultation. Our passionate Dallas attorneys serve clients throughout Texas and multiple Southern and Southwestern states.

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