In classic legal fashion, the answer to whether a rear-end collision can result in a personal injury lawsuit is that it depends. It can be a complicated question with a detailed explanation. Fortunately, the experienced rear-end collision attorneys at Berman & Simmons are here to provide guidance and counseling on any rear-end collision and seek compensation for those that have suffered at the hands of another’s negligence.
What is a Rear-End Collision?
A rear-end traffic collision is a type of collision that occurs when one vehicle (the tail vehicle) is driving behind another vehicle (the lead vehicle), and the tail vehicle collides with the lead vehicle. Rear-end traffic collisions can be caused by numerous factors. Nonetheless, the basic parameters of a rear-end traffic collision typically encompass two scenarios:
- The tail vehicle failed to decelerate in time to prevent from crashing into the lead vehicle; or
- The lead vehicle decelerated or stopped too quickly for the tail vehicle to react to the lead vehicle’s change in speed.
According to a 2007 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end traffic collisions account for the highest number of traffic collisions at 29%.
Common Causes of Rear-End Collisions
Rear-end collisions account for some of the most driver-related car accidents resulting in injury or death on the road. Common causes of these types of collisions include the following.
Drivers today have countless reasons not to pay attention while driving. From screaming kids to attempting to cool down a piping hot mocha frappuccino from their local coffee shop, drivers have much on their minds besides the road. One primary culprit of distracted driving is technology and cellular phones. Some vehicles, like certain electric vehicles, include cumbersome dashboard displays that can stream television and videos to drivers and passengers while the vehicle is in motion.
Many rear-end collisions are caused by the lead or tail driver engaging in unlawful activity on the road. Issues like speeding, failure to yield, and failure to use a turn signal in between lane changes. Drivers should also adhere to traffic laws and be mindful of issues on the road, including obeying traffic signals and slowing down in construction or flagged zones.
Tailgating occurs when one vehicle drives too close to the tail of another vehicle. Logically, if the lead vehicle breaks too abruptly or changes lanes incorrectly, this could cause the tail vehicle to slam into the lead vehicle. Like most states, Maine prohibits this behavior. Under §2066 of the Maine Revised Statutes, the operator of a vehicle cannot follow another vehicle “more closely than is reasonable or prudent” depending on the speed of other vehicles on the road and the roadway conditions.
Sometimes an operator of a motor vehicle may make a mistake while driving and rear-end another vehicle. This can occur in sudden changes in speed due to changes in the flow of traffic, driver anxiety about a number of factors, or driver confusion about the flow of traffic or their location.
Sometimes, a rear-end collision may be caused by a poorly maintained automobile. If someone operates a vehicle that has broken brake lights, it could cause a collision because other drivers on the road would not be able to easily see when the car ahead is applying brakes. Likewise, if someone operates a vehicle with bald tires or deteriorated brake pads, that vehicle may not be able to come to a stop quickly enough to avoid a collision. .
Common Injuries Caused by Rear-End Collisions
Although certain injuries are common after rear-end collisions and other car accidents, those involved can experience a wide range of injuries and ailments related to their crash. The most common form of injury is whiplash.
According to the Mayo Clinic, whiplash is a “neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movements of the neck, like the cracking of a whip.” Rear-end collisions are major culprits of whiplash because a lead driver hit by someone from behind will jerk forward and back and rarely realize an accident is about to occur. Whiplash can manifest in all sorts of symptoms, including:
- Neck pain, neck stiffness, loss of movement range in the neck, and increased pain during neck movement.
- Headaches emanating from the base of the skull to the neck.
- Pain and tenderness in the shoulders and upper back.
- Loss of feeling in the arms and hands.
Whiplash can not only cause its own symptoms, but it can also exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions or injuries. Whiplash is treatable but must be diagnosed and addressed by licensed and experienced medical professionals.
Concussion is traumatic brain injury that can occur when the head is subjected to the forces of a collision. A concussion can occur even if someone does not hit their head against something during a crash. Symptoms of concussion can include:
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Blurred vision or “seeing stars”
- Tinnitus, which is ringing or humming in the inner ear.
- Issues with sleep.
- Cognitive issues impacting memory and concentration.
Other Bodily Injury
Depending on the circumstances of a collision, someone involved in a crash may suffer a wide variety of other injuries, including:
- Back strain and sprain.
- Slipped and herniated discs.
- Spinal fracture or stenosis.
- Catastrophic brain injury.
- Fractured bones.
- Torn or sprained ligaments and muscles.
- Internal bleeding.
- Lacerations to the face and lower extremities.
- Anxiety and depression.
Understanding the Law Around Rear-End Collisions – Who’s at Fault?
The vast majority of all rear-end collisions fall under a single legal theory: negligence. Although some collisions can be attributed to other intentional or malicious acts, the bulk of rear-end collisions are either caused by driver negligence or the negligence of another party who played a role in bringing about the crash.
What is Negligence?
All states, including Maine, utilize some form of negligence when addressing many personal injury cases. A party (defendant) is negligent when the defendant fails to adhere to a standard duty of care based on a reasonably prudent person in a similar position. This means that everyone operating on the road has a duty of care to do so safely. Failure to adhere to that duty can result in liability for their actions, which can be pursued through legal action.
The Legal Test for Negligence
Every legal theory is established by a series of factors that compile a test to determine whether a series of facts meet the legal standard for a cause of action. Legal professionals call this the prima facia case.
Although the prima facia case for negligence can be much more complex, depending on the nature of facts or the specific case being brought, most negligence cases in Maine hinge on four simple factors: duty, breach, causation, and damages. A plaintiff must show all four factors create a viable cause of action. Below is an explanation of the four factors
Duty of Care
Because everyone owes everyone else a standard duty of care, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty while operating their motor vehicle. Thus, if the defendant was tailgating, and Maine restricts the practice of tailgating, then the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to operate their vehicle lawfully.
Once a duty has been established, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions breached that duty. In other words, the plaintiff must show that the defendant did something that he or she had a duty not to do, such as speeding, failing to yield the right of way, or not stopping at a red light.
In addition to showing the defendant did something he or she was not supposed to be doing, the plaintiff has to also show that this is what caused the collision. The plaintiff must show that, but for the defendant’s actions, the rear-end collision would not have occurred.
Once duty, breach, and causation have been proven, the plaintiff must show that the injuries they suffered after the collision were in fact caused by the crash, as opposed to a pre-existing or unrelated condition. In addition to proving the extent of their physical injuries, pain, and suffering, the plaintiff also has to prove the extent of their financial losses, such as medical bills, lost wages or earnings, and other economic damages.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Like most states, Maine is an “at fault” state, which means that the party found liable for an accident must compensate the party or parties that suffered damages resulting from the accident. However, Maine also has adopted a modified form of negligence that distributes liability based on certain circumstances of a personal injury case, including rear-end collisions.
Under Maine’s modified comparative negligence standard, a plaintiff more than 50% liable for an accident will be prevented from collecting any damages from their lawsuit. In cases that go to trial, it is ultimately up to the jury to decide what percentage of liability falls on the plaintiff versus the defendant.
If a plaintiff is less than 50% at fault, the plaintiff will only receive a smaller portion of their entitled damages based on the percentage of their liability. That is to say, the plaintiff’s recovery gets reduced by the degree to which they are negligent.
I Got Hit From Behind, Do I Need A Lawyer – When to Retain an Attorney After a Rear-End Collision
No exact set of conditions are required to consult an attorney after a rear-end collision. However, one should consider contacting a lawyer if one or more of the following have occurred:
- You required medical attention.
- You suffered a serious injury.
- You suffered financial losses because of the crash, such as medical bills, lost wages or earnings.
- The other driver’s insurance company has offered you a settlement, but you’re still unsure of the extent of your injuries.
The Nuts and Bolts of a Rear-End Collision Legal Claim
Commencing a rear-end collision claim against the responsible party is no small task. It requires meticulous research and investigation, collecting and organizing years of medical records and bills, crafting legal arguments, preparing a written demand, and negotiating with other parties, including insurance companies. An experienced Maine rear-end collision attorney is equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to work on any case.
Seeking Medical Treatment
After a rear-end collision, it is best to seek medical treatment immediately. This serves two fundamental purposes. First, a person’s health is their most important asset, and they should seek medical treatment as soon as they are able. In the immediate aftermath of a collision, the extent of your injuries might not immediately be clear, particularly while you are still under the shock and adrenaline of the accident. Some common rear-end collision injuries like whiplash and concussion are challenging to spot at first and require professional diagnosis and follow-up.
Second, promptly seeking care allows a person to create evidence of injuries and financial loss that can later be used to establish economic and non-economic damages for their case. This can be helpful because insurance companies and opposing parties often argue that failure to seek medical care right away could result in residual injuries or illness from other factors unrelated to the accident.
After seeking medical attention, it is best to start collecting evidence of the accident. Typically, parties to an accident should contact the authorities–regardless of whether any party has insurance. The responding law enforcement officer will generate a crash report and take statements from the drivers, passengers, and witnesses. This report will be an important piece of evidence considered by an insurance adjuster when deciding whether or not to settle your claim.
Evidence collection can include the following:
- Police, crash, and reconstruction reports.
- Body-cam and dash cam footage of responding police officers, if applicable.
- Ambulance reports, diagnostic reports, doctor’s notes, and medical bills.
- Insurance policies and contact information of other parties involved.
- Surveillance camera footage, if applicable.
- Photos of the accident and injuries.
- Witness statements.
An attorney preparing a rear-end collision legal claim will often collect information from passengers, witnesses, and law enforcement to help document what happened in the accident.
Dealing with Insurance Companies
In most cases, the insurance companies for both drivers will be involved in resolving the claim after a rear-end collision. Depending on your own auto insurance coverage, your own insurance policy may help you pay for property damage, rental car costs, and medical bills. However, insurance companies are notorious for nickel-and-diming their policyholders or rejecting claims altogether. An experienced Maine rear-end collision attorney can often discuss options with a client insurance company and work towards cooperation.
Rear-End Collision Lawsuits
If an insurance adjuster refuses to resolve a legal claim for a fair amount, then a lawsuit must be filed in court to pursue compensation for a rear-end collision. A licensed rear-end collision attorney will determine the best forum (county) in which to file suit, which could depend on the parties’ home address or the accident’s location.
After the lawsuit has been filed, the opposing party or parties will have a chance to respond. Then, the parties engage in litigation, which consists of filing substantive and procedural motions to address legal disputes and issues in the case. The parties also engage in the discovery process throughout litigation to exchange relevant documentation and conduct depositions of witnesses and the parties involved.
The parties will sometimes engage in settlement discussions and negotiations throughout the lawsuit process for a rear-end collision (or virtually any personal injury case). This is a crucial aspect of any rear-end collision accident and late legal proceedings because it allows parties to settle disputes and potentially prevent the prospect of trial. Trials can be incredibly costly and time-consuming. Thus, once the prospect of trial becomes more apparent, parties often work to settle disputes amicably.
Once pre-trial litigation has concluded, the parties will prepare for and engage in a trial on the factual merits of the case. A trial can be conducted by a jury or judge as the principal fact-finder. During the trial, the parties can provide opening and closing statements, examine and cross-examine witness testimony, and establish physical, documentary, and demonstrative evidence. Trials in rear-end collision cases have become increasingly rare in the last few decades.
Addressing Rear-End Collisions is a Process
Those involved in a traffic accident, especially rear-end collisions, know the trauma and frustration that arises from these types of accidents. At Berman & Simmons, our dedicated Maine personal injury attorneys provide our clients with the counseling and guidance necessary to address issues arising from rear-end collisions. In addition, our clients know our team advocates for their interests and work to obtain the best possible outcome for their case.