Rear-end collisions are among the most common types of crashes seen by our auto accident attorneys in New York. While rear-end collisions are normally perceived as inconsequential accidents, the truth is many of these occurrences result in serious injury to the driver and passengers in the car that was struck from behind. These type of accidents frequently result in major back and neck injuries which can be debilitating and adversely affect victims for the rest of their lives.
Rear end collisions are also unique from a legal standpoint, as they almost always involve a negligent driver. Consequently, individuals who have suffered serious injuries causing economic damages typically have grounds for a lawsuit. As a result, it is crucial that anyone who suffered an injury while being in a car that was rear-ended seek out an auto accident attorney to help determine whether they have grounds for a claim.
How Do Rear-End Accidents Happen?
This type of vehicular accident is self-explanatory. 1 vehicle has struck another from behind, perhaps causing serious injury to a person or persons occupying the vehicle in front. There are several ways this type of accident typically occurs, including but not limited to:
- The victimized car or truck is stopped at a red light or a stop sign when another inattentive driver slams into them from behind.
- A car is rear-ended in "stop and go" traffic. In such instances, the driver of the offending vehicle can be inattentive for as little 1 or 2 seconds and fail to notice the vehicle in front of them stopped due to traffic.
- The rear-end hit can also take place when traffic is merging onto a highway or other major roadway. A merging vehicle may "inch up" while looking behind them to see if it is safe to merge onto the main roadway. Sometimes the vehicle in front decides that it is not safe to merge at the last moment, and stops. The next vehicle in line, thinking the vehicle in front of him has proceeded onto the main roadway, is now looking behind at the oncoming traffic, gauging whether to merge himself. While looking behind, he crashes into the stopped vehicle ahead.
All of these scenarios are examples of negligence, or the failure to use reasonable care, by a driver that failed to drive in the manner that a reasonable, prudent vehicle operator would drive under similar circumstances.
Why Should I Consult An Experienced Auto Accident Attorney In New York?
Despite the appearance of simplicity, there are many nuances specific to a rear-end collision that an experienced auto accident attorney should know. First, your lawyer needs to be aware that in New York State, he or she may bring a motion before the court asking the court to grant summary judgment on the issue of liability (fault) to the victim of the car accident. Since winning a trial entails proving liability and damages, bringing and winning a motion for summary judgment allows you to win half the battle, without the danger of an adverse liability verdict (when the defendant is found by a jury to have no fault in causing the accident). Winning a motion of summary judgment also leaves your case in an enviable position to negotiate a favorable settlement. When the only issue left in your case is how much money you are entitled to for your injuries, an insurance company faces increased risk and exposure. Thus, they are more likely to offer a fair resolution of your case.
However, just because your vehicle was struck from behind does not mean you will automatically win summary judgment on the issue of fault or liability. In fact, the defendant in the lawsuit will often dispute the Plaintiff victim's claim that their vehicle was struck from behind, or at least deny the facts regarding how the contact from the rear of their vehicle occurred. This may happen even in the face of damage to the rear of your vehicle. Such denials often occur in a way that is designed to defeat the anticipated motion by the victim's attorney asking the court to declare that the defendant is liable for the accident. For example, the defendant will often claim that the contact from behind happened due to a sudden lane change by the vehicle in front, whereby the vehicle in front quickly turned or swerved into his lane, and then stopped suddenly. While accidents do on occasion happen in this manner, it is astonishing how often this claim is made in rear-end accident cases. These claims occur because defendants have a tendency to tailor their testimony, or even outright fabricate such claims, in a concerted and premeditated plan to lay the groundwork to defend a future motion for summary judgment, by creating a question of fact for a jury on the question of negligence. The reason defendants tend to claim that the victim crossed-over lanes, rather than that they stopped short, stems from the fact that in New York State, case law has held that the mere fact that the vehicle in front may have stopped short is not an adequate defense to what is, in effect, automatic liability against the defendant driver.
Regardless of the veracity, or lack thereof, of a claim that the plaintiff actually caused himself to get hit in the rear by swerving in front of the defendant's vehicle, the plaintiff must deal with this defense as a serious matter. It takes a skilled and experienced attorney to question the defendant at deposition and explore the believability of such claims. There are numerous techniques your lawyer can employ when questioning the offending driver to attempt to expose any false claim that you caused your own accident. These questions primarily refer to a series of carefully-worded and sequenced inquires that relate in one way or another to time, speed and distance. Asking such questions at the highest level is an art form that may be developed only after many years of practicing law; unfortunately, for many auto accident attorneys in New York, this is a skill that is never acquired.
Who Is At Fault In A Rear-End Accident Involving 3 Or More Vehicles?
Accidents involving 3 or more vehicles can also occur when a driver has his car rear-ended. This type of accident is often referred to as a "chain link" type of accident. These accidents typically occur because the second vehicle in line stops short as a result of striking the vehicle ahead of it, resulting in a chain reaction where each succeeding vehicle in line strikes the vehicle ahead of it. One should be cognizant of the fact that merely because car #2 stopped short as a result of striking car #1, does not necessarily absolve car #3 of liability for striking car #2 in the rear. Car #3 may still be liable because, generally speaking, driving with reasonable care requires each vehicle to drive a sufficient distance behind the vehicle in front of it so that if the vehicle ahead of you stops short for any reason, the trailing vehicle should still be able to stop in time without striking another vehicle in the rear. Loosely stated, if a vehicle rear-ends another vehicle that was traveling directly in front of it, then the vehicle either was following too closely (also known as tailgating), or failed to be attentive enough and react as a reasonably prudent (non-negligent) driver would have reacted under the circumstances.
A safe driving distance is generally thought to consist of at least 1 car length for every 10 miles per hour that one is traveling. Therefore, if you and the driver ahead of you are driving on a highway at 60 MPH, you should be sure to leave at least 6 car lengths between the front of your vehicle and the rear of that vehicle. This safe driving distance is not set in stone but it is a formula often cited by engineers and accident reconstruction experts while testifying in court during jury trials. The distance takes into account human factors like normal reaction times and actually may include discussion or analysis of the relationship between brain recognition and the time it takes for the body to physically react. Of course, even what is considered a safe driving distance is only going to be sufficient to prevent an accident involving an attentive driver. A second lost glancing at a cell phone, radio or car passenger can and will change the equation completely.