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If You Rear End Someone, Is it Always Your Fault?

March 12, 2020 By Cerussi and Gunn P.C. Legal Team

Rear-end collisions are some of the most common road accidents in New Jersey. Stop-and-go traffic, tailgating, and distracted drivers can lead to one driver colliding with the rear of another driver’s vehicle. It is a common misconception that the rear driver is always at fault for rear-end collisions. While the law in New Jersey is such that the rear driver is presumed to be negligent, it is possible for the leading driver to take part or all of the fault for a rear-end collision, depending on the circumstances. If you were in this type of accident, do not assume or admit fault before a more thorough investigation; contact a Monmouth County car accident lawyer to discuss your options.

If I Rear-Ended Someone From Behind, Is It My Fault?

A rear-end vehicle collision could be your fault as the rear driver if another driver in your position reasonably would have noticed the stopped vehicle and braked on time to prevent an accident. If, for example, you were looking at something other than the road when the car in front of you stopped, and you did not hit your brakes fast enough, you could be liable for the rear-end collision. Another reasonable and prudent driver most likely would have watched the road and stopped on time. The collision could be your fault as the rear driver if you were guilty of any act of negligence or recklessness that caused the crash, including:

  • Distracted driving
  • Texting and driving
  • Reading while driving
  • Personal grooming
  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Aggressive driving
  • Making an unsafe lane change
  • Breaking roadway rules
  • Failing to stop within a reasonable time
  • Failing to maintain your vehicle’s brakes
  • Losing control of the vehicle
  • Drunk driving

A rear-end car accident could be your fault if you broke any rule, law, or best practice that caused or substantially contributed to the collision. If an investigation does determine you to be at fault for the rear-end collision, the other driver could file a lawsuit against you if he or she has serious enough injuries. Notwithstanding, New Jersey’s no-fault laws give the injured driver no choice but to seek compensation for medical expenses, property damages, and some other damages through his or her own auto insurance company, regardless of fault.

Understanding New Jersey’s No-Fault Laws

New Jersey is one of roughly a dozen states that follow some form of no-fault car insurance. Under this system, your own car insurance coverage (“personal injury protection” or “PIP” coverage in New Jersey) pays for medical treatment and other out-of-pocket losses incurred by anyone covered under the policy, up to coverage limits, regardless of who is at fault. With a no-fault/PIP claim, you cannot get non-monetary damages stemming from the accident, including compensation for “pain and suffering.” Compensation for “pain and suffering” is recovered from the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company.

Rear-End Collisions: When Is it the Leading Driver’s Fault?

As the rear driver, a rear-end collision might not be your fault if no reasonable driver would have been able to avoid the crash based on the circumstances. The leading driver could be guilty of many things that could ultimately cause or contribute to you colliding with the back of his or her vehicle. Further inspection of the crash scene, vehicle damages, and other types of evidence could point to the other driver’s fault for committing an act of negligence.

  • Tail lights or brake lights that are not working
  • Slamming on the brakes/brake-checking
  • Cutting off the rear driver
  • Merging on top of a driver
  • Failing to see a vehicle in the blind spot
  • Failing to use a turn signal to merge
  • Ignoring the right-of-way
  • Reversing the vehicle suddenly
  • Getting a flat tire but not pulling over
  • Crashing into the vehicle in front of him or her

Should You Ever Admit Fault After a Rear-End Collision?

Whether you rear-ended someone from behind and believe it’s your fault or if you got rear-ended and not sure who is at fault, it’s safe to say that no one enjoys the inconvenience. Injuries and damages withstanding, having your day interrupted is disruptive enough for most.

Consider the fact you might have to replace car parts and take care of injuries, and you’re suddenly faced with an ordeal that could last months.

Understandably, you want to be rid of the hassle that comes standard with the accident and say anything to speed up the process. Many drivers admit fault, especially if they think a rear-end collision under the law is always their fault, in hopes it will expedite everything. However, a rear-end accident might not be your fault, even though it seemed like it was, and if you admit fault, but you do not think that you are at fault, your auto insurance company may be responsible for the other driver’s pain and suffering. If you rear-end someone and think it’s your fault and admit as such, you and your insurance company may become legally responsible for paying damages. 

The other driver and their insurance company may also try to pressure you into admitting fault, but you should never agree to a statement without an attorney present. 

Rear-ending someone is not always your fault. Protect your rights and the potential option to hold the leading driver responsible for the collision by retaining an attorney. Do not admit or accept fault from the other driver, police officers, or insurance company agents after the crash, if you do not believe the crash was your fault. 

Even if you are the rear driver, proof of the other driver’s fault could give you multiple options for recovery instead of only a first-party claim for medical expenses and property damage through your own auto insurance company.

How to Recover After a Rear-End Car Accident

If your actions did solely cause the rear-end collision, a first-party claim with your insurance company will most likely be your only option for recovery, and that recovery is limited to the payment of your medical bills and property damage. If the facts show that the collision is the other driver’s fault, however, you may be eligible for a third-party claim against his or her insurance company. However, depending on your insurance policy, New Jersey’s laws may only allow you to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party if your injuries are disabling, disfiguring, or permanent. If the crash did cause a serious enough injury and the other party was at fault, you could file a civil claim against that driver to recover compensation for your damages. Contact our Monmouth County personal injury attorneys to get started.