The variations in the ways that car crashes occur are endless. Rear-end collisions are among the most common types of car accidents our attorneys see. While rear-enders are normally perceived as inconsequential accidents, the truth is many of these types of accidents 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.
These accidents 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 or had their car suffer serious damage 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 a rear end accident lawyer to help determine whether they have grounds for a claim. For a free evaluation of your potential lawsuit, give us a call at 212.406.1700 or contact us through our website.How Rear-End Accidents Happen
This type of vehicular accident is self-explanatory. One vehicle has struck another from behind, perhaps causing serious injury to one or more 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 stop 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 now is looking behind him at the oncoming traffic gauging whether to merge himself, and while looking behind him/her 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.
Despite the appearance of simplicity, there are many nuances specific to a rear-ender that an experienced New York car accident lawyer should know. First, your lawyer needs to be aware that in New York State, he/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-meaning the defendant was found by a jury to have no fault in causing the accident-by an unpredictable jury. 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, and is 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 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 hit in the rear vehicular accidents. 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. If your lawyer does not know this, it may be best to retain one who does.
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 relate 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, and unfortunately for many lawyers, is a skill never acquired at all.Who is at Fault in a Rear-End Accident Involving Three 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. This type of accident typically occurs 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 one strikes a vehicle that was travelling directly in front of it in the rear, then that vehicle either was following too closely (also known as tailgating), or if not following too closely then was negligent in failing to be attentive enough and failing to 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 one car length for every 10 miles per hour that one is travelling. 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 such as normal reaction times in reacting to events, 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.How are Rear-End Collision Cases Involving Three or More Vehicles Different?
The sequence of contact may be an important consideration for the victim's attorney in a chain link type of collision. This is most easily explained by using the example of a 3 vehicle chain collision whereby the seriously or catastrophically injured plaintiff was the driver or passenger occupying vehicle #1, in a line of 3 vehicles. The issue involves the claim by the driver of vehicle #2 that although vehicle #1 may have stopped short, vehicle #2 actually came to a complete stop without striking vehicle #1. Vehicle #2 further claims that after coming to a complete stop, he/she was hit in the rear by vehicle #3, which pushed an otherwise harmlessly stopped vehicle #2 into the rear of vehicle #1. If the claims of vehicle #2 are true, then vehicle #2 is likely faultless. Indeed, in that circumstance, the operator of vehicle #2 was attentive and careful, and was able to come to a complete stop without contacting any other vehicle. It would be no fault of vehicle #2 that he was pushed into vehicle #1 causing injury to the occupants of that vehicle. However, once again, the believability of such defenses must be thoroughly tested. It would be difficult to even count the number of times we have come across a dubious claim by car #2 that he was completely stopped and then pushed into car #1, when in reality it was car #2 that violently smashed into car #1 from behind before then being rear-ended by car #3. Again, it is the experienced attorney that must examine such defenses by investigating the facts with his client and other witnesses, as well as through skillful and artful questioning of the defendant at the time of his deposition. Important considerations include the number of contacts to the rear of the plaintiff's vehicle, and who heard and/or felt what, how many times, and when. Is this really that important? The answer is a resounding yes. Consider the situation that an occupant of car #1 is seriously injured or killed, and while car #2 has 1 million dollars or more of insurance coverage, car #3 has the minimum New York State liability insurance limits of $25,000 per person. It is imperative that the plaintiff's attorney not merely be satisfied that some vehicle behind the victim caused the accident. The determination of which vehicle, or whether both vehicles, were responsible, can be the difference between fair compensation and the ability to provide for oneself and one's family, and almost no compensation at all.What is the "Mechanism of Injury" In Rear-End Accidents?
Finally, the mechanism of injury is unique to rear-end collisions, and is something that any personal injury attorney handling such cases should be familiar with. Without question, the types of injuries caused by rear-end vehicular accidents are limited only by the number and types of bones, muscles, tissues, body members and functions that are part of the human condition. Injuries can range from various types of fractures,torn ligaments, herniated cervical, lumbar or thoracic discs, paralysis, or death. The importance of being familiar with the mechanism of car accident injuries becomes an issue when a defendant's attorney or insurance company claims that a traumatic injury was either pre-existing or degenerative in nature, and thus not caused by the accident. This defense is most commonly used in instances where an accident caused the plaintiff to suffer a herniated cervical disc or herniated lumbar disc. We have even seen defendant's and insurance companies make such "causation" defenses where the plaintiff had no history or symptoms of back injury or treatment prior to an accident, and required surgery after an accident including the necessity to fuse discs together in a lumbar or cervical fusion or other operation. The mechanism of the body being first violently thrust back, and only then snapping forward, is often an important factor in the hit in the rear case. It is relevant to the plaintiff's testimony at deposition, and must be discussed with doctors called by the plaintiff and in cross-examination of doctors called by the defense.An Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer is Essential to Litigating Your Accident Case
In order to receive the maximum compensation available for your injury, it's important you retain a personal injury lawyer with experience in car accident cases. Due to the complexities described above, it's of the utmost importance that your attorney have experience litigating each type of rear-end collision. At Queller, Fisher, Washor Fuchs & Kool, our New York car accident attorneys have been litigating car accident cases for over 50 years. We understand all of the complexities involved in a case where someone is injured after their vehicle has been struck in the rear by another car. In addition to our attorneys' personal experience and knowledge, we employ forensic experts at the forefront of their fields to help prove our clients' cases. As a result, our firm has recovered well over $100 million in compensation for our clients.
If you've suffered an injury after your vehicle has been rear ended, don't hesitate to seek the counsel of an experienced auto accident attorney. To see if you have grounds for a claim, give us a call at 212.406.1700 or fill out our case review form online. All consultations are free of charge.