Rear-End Collisions: Who’s at Fault?

July 31, 2018 @ 3:25 pm

rear end collision blog photo

Most people assume that the driver who rear-ends another vehicle is always automatically 100-percent at fault. In Louisiana, however, state law allows that in some cases, a lead, or preceding driver may be partially or even fully responsible for a following vehicle striking from behind. In many cases, distracted driving plays a role.

If the following driver can prove in a court of law that he or she was not negligent, a jury may find that the lead driver was. Then, establishing fault for a rear-end collision becomes a matter of assigning a percentage of fault to the parties involved based on the details of the accident.

Assigning Negligence

Negligence occurs when someone fails to perform an action as expected and harm results. Someone gets hurt, or property is destroyed or damaged. That negligence—failing to do one’s duty and allowing harm—becomes the basis for establishing fault.

In cases involving rear-end collisions, establishing who was negligent is crucial in redistributing fault away from the following driver and onto the lead driver or other responsible party.

Louisiana Statute on Following Vehicles

Louisiana law states that following motorists have a duty to keep a “reasonable and prudent” distance from the car in front of them. In maintaining that distance, drivers must take into account:

  • vehicle speeds
  • traffic levels
  • highway conditions

In establishing fault, the law looks at whether the following driver fulfilled that duty by adjusting distance and speed to allow for a safe stop. To avoid charges of negligence, the following driver must be able to prove that he or she had the vehicle under control, was watching the leading vehicle and followed at a distance reasonable for the driving conditions.

Louisiana’s Sudden Emergency Doctrine

Most states have a provision to rule out negligence if circumstances exceed a driver’s ability to anticipate events. Louisiana’s sudden emergency doctrine does exactly that by exempting following drivers who are “suddenly confronted” by “an unanticipated hazard created by a forward vehicle, which could not be reasonably avoided.”

Put simply, a lead driver may make a mistake or act in a way that no reasonable, prudent driver would be able to counter or overcome. The lead driver may also do something illegal that causes the accident.

Compliance With Motor Vehicle Laws

All drivers have a duty to obey all motor vehicle laws at all times. If a lead driver’s failure to comply causes the collision, that person may be at least partially responsible:

  • A lead vehicle may cut in front of another vehicle without signaling and with too little space.
  • A lead vehicle’s brake lights, tail lights, turn signals or other required equipment may not function, leaving other drivers unable to gauge traffic patterns correctly.
  • A lead driver may signal an intention but fail to execute it or do something else.
  • A lead driver may drift or reverse the vehicle into the following car.
  • A driver may leave an inoperable car in a traffic lane but fail to engage the vehicle’s hazard lights to alert other drivers.

Louisiana’s Pure Comparative Fault Rule

Louisiana adheres to a rule of pure comparative fault. This means that, in accidents involving more than one driver, percentages of fault can be assigned to all parties involved—the following driver, the lead driver and any other individuals involved.

  • For example, In Daigle v. Mumphrey, the driver of the lead vehicle was found to be 100-percent responsible for a Coca-Cola truck rear-ending her because she failed to signal a lane change and cut in front of the truck, leaving it no room to stop. 
  • In Dugas v. Derouen, fault for rear-ending the lead driver was distributed evenly between the following driver and children on bicycles traveling against traffic. 
  • In Johnson v. State Farm, two rear-end collisions involved three separate drivers: A following driver’s vehicle was left inoperable after rear-ending a car that cut in front of him, suddenly braked and then fled the accident scene. A third driver failed to see the disabled vehicle in the road with inoperable hazard lights and struck it from behind. The court assigned 90 percent of the fault to the first driver, who cut, braked and fled, and 10 percent of the fault to the second driver, who was unable to remove his car from traffic. The third driver was assigned zero fault.

Reduced Fault, Reduced Liability

Allocating fault by percentage translates into shared percentages of liability for damages. A plaintiff—a lead driver, for example—who is found to be 50 percent at fault can expect to collect only 50 percent of the damages awarded.

Likewise, if someone is found to own 70 percent of the fault but sues for damages, the most that driver can hope to recover from the other driver is 30 percent of the amount awarded. Even if a driver must assume a portion of fault for a rear-end collision, it doesn’t have to be 100 percent.

If you find yourself involved in a rear-end collision and feel you are not completely at fault, the legal experts at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik want to help. We represent victims and their families and are committed to fighting for victims’ rights to fair compensation. Contact us through our website, or call 1-800-356-6776. Let us work to assign fault where it belongs.