Who Is at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?
When two vehicles get into an accident, the driver who caused the crash may be ordered to pay the other driver damages, or compensation, to help with the injury victim’s medical bills and other financial losses. In this article, our Baltimore car accident lawyers will explain how fault is determined in a rear-end collision in Maryland.
How Many Car Accidents Are Caused by Rear-End Collisions?
Rear-end collisions rank among the leading causes of car accidents, not only in Maryland, but throughout the United States. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency which researches ways to improve road safety, rear-end collisions accounted for about 28% of the 6,318,000 crashes reported to police in 2003. That equates to approximately 1,769,040 rear-end collisions, which is about 4,847 per day on average – more than 200 each hour.
The same year, the NHTSA released a separate report detailing driver attributes in rear-end crashes. The report found that age and gender were significant risk factors, noting that drivers under age 25 and over age 68 were at higher risk than all other age groups. The older drivers were, the more likely they were to be the striking vehicle. Men were found to be at an overall higher risk than women, and were more likely to be striking drivers than women.
On the state level, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) names rear-end collisions as the number one crash cause, followed by sideswipes and improper left hand turns. Like the NHTSA, the MVA identifies young and elderly drivers as having the highest risk for car accidents.
MD Traffic Laws Against Tailgating
Following too closely, or “tailgating,” is more than just an aggravating driving habit – it’s also prohibited by Maryland’s traffic laws. Maryland Transportation Code Ann. § 21-310(a) requires all drivers to put a “reasonable and prudent” distance between themselves and the vehicle in front of them. A specific distance is not specified, but drivers should take into consideration the other vehicle’s speed, the condition of the road, and the density of the surrounding traffic.
This law has a direct bearing on the victims of rear-end collisions in Maryland, because it effectively places the legal blame for such collisions on the striking driver. A presumption exists that, had the striking driver put sufficient distance between themselves and the car in front of them, the accident would not have occurred. This is called a presumption of negligence.
What Elements Must the Plaintiff Prove in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Critically for plaintiffs, the presumption of negligence in rear-end collisions is rebuttable, which means the defendant can potentially avoid liability if he or she is able to prove that he or she did not act negligently, or that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident. While this rarely occurs with regard to rear-end collisions, it is still important for plaintiffs to understand the four key elements which must be proven in order to be awarded compensation in a personal injury case.
The first element is called the duty of care. A duty of care must have been owed to the plaintiff by the defendant in order for liability to exist. For instance, in a case where medical malpractice is being alleged, the defendant cannot be liable for injuries to the plaintiff unless they were formally entered into a physician-patient relationship. All drivers automatically have a duty of care to all other drivers, so proving this element is fairly simple in car accident cases.
The next element is that the duty of care was breached, or violated. In a rear-end collision scenario, the breach of duty would be the striking driver’s failure to maintain a safe distance between his or her vehicle and the struck driver’s vehicle. As the previous section pointed out, following too closely is a violation of Maryland Transportation Code Ann. § 21-310(a).
The third element is called causation, because the plaintiff must be able to prove that the accident was caused by the defendant’s breach of duty. Causation is divided into two sub-elements:
Actual Cause – Also called “cause in fact,” actual cause is the direct cause of an accident – in this scenario, striking the vehicle from the rear.
Proximate Cause – Proximate cause is more abstract than actual cause, because it is the legal cause rather than the literal cause of an accident. In other words, it is the decision or action which sets a foreseeable rear-end collision into motion (e.g. driver distraction, such as texting while driving).
The final element is called damages, the existence of which must be proven by the plaintiff. Damages to the plaintiff can be physical, such as a broken bone or traumatic brain injury, or financial, such as the cost of repairing or replacing a damaged or totaled vehicle, or income the plaintiff was deprived of while out of work recovering from their injuries.
If you were rear-ended in Baltimore or elsewhere in Maryland, you may be able to recover compensation to help with your expenses related to the crash. To talk about your accident in a free and confidential legal consultation, call the attorneys of Whitney, LLP at (410) 583-8000. Our accomplished legal team is proud to fight for car accident injury victims throughout the state of Maryland.