Can The Front Driver Be At Fault In a Rear-End Collision?

Auto Accident

When one vehicle crashes into the back of another vehicle, a collision results that is commonly referred to as a “rear-end collision,” a car accident commonly caused by tailgating.  The general consensus is that the driver who was in the back of the rear-end collision should be automatically at fault for the crash. After all, he should have been able to brake and stop in time to avoid hitting the car in front of him. While many rear-end collisions are, in fact, the fault of the rear driver, this is not always the case and, in many instances, the rear driver may be able to hold the front driver liable for the accident.

While motor vehicle accident laws vary from state to state, I am going to focus on Florida law since that is the state where I practice.

Florida Laws on Rear-end Collisions

The legal system in Florida automatically presumes1 that the rear driver was responsible for causing the rear-end collision, which is called a “presumption of fault.” This does not necessarily mean that the rear driver will be held liable for the losses of injured parties, however, as the rear driver also has the legal right to present evidence against this presumption of fault. Because the presumption can be challenged, it is called a “rebuttable presumption.” The rear driver can present evidence in the form of documents, video recordings, or witness testimony to overcome this presumption and defend against any claims of negligence on their part.

While it is possible for a rear driver to successfully rebut the presumption of fault, it can also be complicated and challenging. Florida law2 requires all drivers to “not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent” for the speed of traffic and the conditions of the roadway or highway. This generally means that drivers should not follow too closely that they would not be able to slow down or stop without a collision. If a rear driver was unable to stop, it makes it difficult for them to prove in their case that the front driver was at fault.

When the front driver may be held liable

There are some situations in which a rear driver can rebut the presumption of fault in a rear-end collision, including the following:

  • If the front driver suddenly changes lanes in front of the rear driver, essentially “cutting them off” and not allowing them enough room to slow down or stop.
  • If the front vehicle did not have properly working taillights or brake lights, so the rear driver could not see the car or did not know they were braking.
  • If the front driver suddenly and without warning or reason slams on their brakes and there was no way the rear driver could stop in time.
  • If there was another defect or act of driver negligence that caused a collision in the traffic lane that resulted in a chain reaction class.
  • The rear driver's brakes failed or the vehicle was otherwise defective and prevented them from stopping.
  • The rear driver encountered a dangerous condition on the road—such as a pothole—that caused him to lose control.

In the above scenarios, the rear driver may be able to hold the front driver, the auto manufacturer, or the government entity responsible for road maintenance liable for the collision.

Contact an auto accident lawyer for help today

If you are the rear driver in a rear-end collision, you should not automatically assume that you were at fault for the accident. Instead, you should discuss what happened with an experienced car accident lawyer who can help to identify whether another party may have been negligent and may be held liable for your losses.

This blog post was submitted by Matthew A. Dolman, an experienced Florida personal injury attorney.  Please click here to view his profile.


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