Rear-end collisions are far and away the most common type of collision in that Atlanta auto accident lawyers deal with. We are “blessed with four interstates, I-85, I-75, I-20, and I-285 all packed full of high-speed traffic and marginal drivers. This article will discuss some of the most common fact patterns involved in a rear-end collision and point out some of the pitfalls that can face a driver and their attorney.
The Simple Rear-End Crash
These are usually pretty straightforward as to who is to blame for the car accident unless the other car argues that you:
Changed lanes suddenly in front of them;
That you pulled out from a side street in front of them without sufficient distance for them to stop.
How do you or your car wreck lawyer combat these arguments?
You can rely on physical evidence such as skid marks, where the impacts were and whether the impact evidence shows whether one vehicle’s speed was higher than the other.
Witnesses are the gold standard but, be aware that insurance company will move quickly to lock the witnesses down in a recorded statement so be careful.
The “Chain Reaction” Interstate Crash
These are often seen after a thunderstorm when the oil on the roadway mixes with the rainwater and something causes a driver to slow suddenly. Invariably, the following driver either:
is following too closely or
is not paying attention or both and slams into the car in front.
What can follow is a chain of front to rear collisions and a confusing mess of which driver is responsible. Is it the first driver who arguably slammed on brakes for no reason? Is each driver who hit the one in front of them equally responsible? What if you slid and hit the car in front but were then hit in the rear as well? Who is going to pay for the damage and any medical care?
The key to these questions is whether a driver is blame-free, i.e. rear-ended without having hit the car in front or not. If you are in a multiple-vehicle crash and are in between two cars, both of whom you made contact with, you need to pray that the car to the front says the only felt one impact. If they say they felt two impacts (yours to them, and then you get pushed into them again by the car to the rear, you will have trouble).
What kind of trouble? The insurance company for the car to the rear is unlikely to pay for any of the repairs to the front of your car and will only accept the repairs to the rear. It also means they will weigh the damage from the two impacts and decide which is worse. They will then accept only that portion of responsibility for the medical bills and pain and suffering that is commensurate with the proportion of impact. It is not an exact science and these cases are always a huge headache.
Other Rear-End Collision Fact Patterns and Obstacles
The key to litigating read end collisions is to understand the core insurance defense principals. When I worked for insurance companies, we were taught to look first to the visual severity of the impact itself. How bad does it look? The worse it looks, the more likely a jury will find that the complained of injury is related.
Most people assume that liability (responsibility) always lies on the vehicle to the rear. In practice, that is not always true. There are several scenarios in which the leading car can be at fault.
The car in front changed lanes into a small space between the vehicle to the rear and another car, effectively cutting the following distance in half. Although it usually takes corroboration from the car that was originally in front of the striking vehicle, it is effective if supported by evidence.
The car that was hit pulled out from a side street in front of the striking vehicle. This again requires eyewitness testimony to support the allegation but the blame would be on the striking vehicle.
The Recorded Statement
This is the really big trap. All insurance companies will ask for a recorded statement after the crash “just to document the file.” What they are trained to do is ask leading questions about how suddenly you stopped, when you changed lanes and basically anything that would allow them to put a percentage of the blame on you. It is more and more common to have an adjuster declare that you are 40% at fault and then just not care and force you to use your collision insurance. If you don’t have collision insurance, they are even more likely to do this because they know it is not cost-effective to file lawsuits over partial repair damage. Bottom line is, politely decline the recorded statement when it is the other driver’s insurance asking for it. Remember that you do have to give one to your own insurance company as part of the duty to cooperate.
Regardless of where the facts of your case fall, never lose sight of the most important factor that determines whether an injury claim coming from a car accident will be treated fairly is the amount of the property damage. Jurors have a tough time believing that serious injuries can come from crashes that appear cosmetically minor. The reality is that cars are built to absorb 10 mph impacts without showing it. The problem is that humans are no.