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Car Accident

Who Is At Fault in a Rear-End Accident?

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Reports estimate that more than 40% of car accidents involve read-end collisions. Often, a driver who rear-ends another vehicle is legally responsible for injuries and damage — but that is not always the case. Factual analysis of the accident is necessary to determine who is at fault in a rear-end accident.

Virginia Motor Vehicle Law

A provision in Virginia motor vehicle law plays a significant role in determining fault in a rear-end accident. The provision prohibits the practice commonly known as tailgating. Section 46.2-816 of the Virginia Code, titled Following Too Closely, states:

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of both vehicles and the traffic on, and conditions of, the highway at the time.

If a driver violates this statute and rear-ends another car, that driver likely will be liable for compensating injured victims. Importantly, the law takes into account traffic and highway conditions that exist in determining what distance is safe.

Many rear-end accidents involve following too closely in poor weather and road conditions. Rear-end collisions often occur when roads are wet or covered in snow or ice, or when visibility is poor. However, the most frequent cause of rear-end crashes is distracted driving, including cell phone use and a host of other activities that divert the driver’s attention from driving.

In most rear-accident cases, there is an assumption that the accident occurred because the driver in back was following too closely. That is because following too closely by the rear driver is the most frequent cause of rear-ending collisions. Inattentiveness due to distracted driving often is a contributing cause.

When Is the Front Driver At Fault in a Rear-End Accident?

In every accident, the specific facts and circumstances determine who is fault. While there are no general rules putting fault on the driver in front, some situations can result in the lead driver being at fault and legally responsible for a rear-end accident. They include circumstances in which the front driver:


  • Has faulty brake lights
  • Backs into the car behind
  • Makes an improper U-turn
  • Starts a turn, fails to complete the turn, and goes forward instead
  • Fails to display warning or back lights
  • Signals lane change, starts to merge, but then returns to original lane
  • Fails to yield to oncoming traffic
  • Leaves an unlit vehicle stopped in roadway at night
  • Engages in illegal activities, such as consuming alcohol or drugs

These situations all have something in common: A driver in the front car of a rear-end accident operating a vehicle in an illegal or unsafe manner. When that conduct causes a rear-end accident, fault may placed on the front-car driver rather than on the driver in the back car.

In some of the above situations, the facts may not clearly show which driver was at fault. Ambiguous facts also affect settlement negotiations if a claim for compensation is made by one of the drivers. If a case goes to trial, the evidence may create a question of fact for a judge or jury to decide.

Multiple Vehicle Rear-End Collisions

A rear-end accident involving more than two vehicles is more complicated than one involving just two vehicles. In some cases, the driver who initially caused the accident may be legally responsible for compensating all injured victims.

Multi-vehicle accidents are extremely complex. If you suffer serious injuries in a crash involving multiple vehicles, it is always in your best interest to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Contributory Negligence in Rear-End Accidents

One of the complicating factors in a rear-end collision case is our state’s legal standard of pure contributory negligence. The standard applies in Virginia personal injury cases, including car accidents.

Under the rule, if your own conduct contributes at all to causing an accident, you cannot recover compensation from another driver. That is true even if you were 1% at fault, and the other driver was 99% at fault. It is a harsh rule — but it is the law in Virginia.

Contributory negligence becomes especially difficult to determine in a rear-end accident. Accident facts can only be ascertained based on testimony of the drivers and any witnesses. Often, it is one driver’s version against another driver’s version.

Injuries in Rear-End Crashes

If another vehicle strikes your car from behind, your injuries can be severe. That is especially the case if a much larger or higher vehicle hits you from the rear.

Whiplash is a common injury in a rear-end accident. If you are in a rear-end collision and experience neck, vision, shoulder, arm, or back problems, seek medical attention immediately. Whiplash injuries can be extremely severe and require medical treatment.

One of the most dangerous kinds of injuries that may occur is internal bleeding caused by the impact and jolt to your body. Rear-end collisions also can cause broken bones, especially collar and facial fractures.

If you are in a rear-end collision, do not underestimate the possibility of serious medical problems resulting from the accident. You should always visit the doctor and have a full evaluation, even if you are not sure whether you were injured. Some injuries from this type of accident do not surface immediately and can become dangerous if they not treated promptly.

Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Car Accident Attorney

If you suffered severe injuries in a Virginia accident that was another person’s fault, or if you have lost a loved one in a collision, Virginia Beach car accident lawyer Jeff Brooke has the experience and skill to help you. The Jeff Brooke Team is committed to helping clients and their families recover the compensation they deserve. Contact us by phone at (757) 785-0837 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.



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