In Florida, where roads and people are busy, traffic grinds to a halt on a daily basis, and the influx of new residents is climbing every week, accidents happen more frequently than we’d like. From head-on collisions with reckless drunk drivers to being sideswiped on the highway by that one driver who just couldn’t wait, hit-and-runs on a busy street and those minor fender benders in Publix parking lots after a long day at work. No matter the type of accident a driver is involved in or the severity, someone is at-fault. Fault, under the law, is called liability, and as a safe driver, it’s important to know the laws surrounding it while out on the road.
Then, there are accidents where a driver is rear-ended, which can cause some of the worst neck and spine injuries as well as serious motor vehicle damage, leaving the victim in pain and with endless medical bills, not to mention those costly insurance claims and games of Deny, Delay, Don’t Pay! That’s why now, in Part 3 of our Car Accident Law series, we’ll seek to explain the specifics of accidents in which a driver is rear-ended, suffering what could be catastrophic injuries. These accidents are not only painful and cause extreme suffering physically, but financially as well, due to the vehicle damage caused when it’s hit at full force from behind.
Determining fault: not so fast!
It’s not always easy for the police who arrive on the scene of an accident to determine fault without a thorough investigation, but when a driver is rear ended by the driver behind them, becoming the victim of serious neck and spine juries, one would think it may be an obvious answer. However, it’s straightforward in that scenario either! There are several key factors that determine who’s at-fault when a driver is rear-ended by another motorist.
Within this article, we’ll thoroughly investigate how fault is determined when a driver is rear ended and sustains injuries, and what steps they should take if they find themselves injured due to another driver’s road negligence. It’s important for drivers to know their rights when the distracted driver behind them slams on his or her breaks, sending them straight into traffic and damaging their vehicle, but more so causing serious, life-threatening injuries.
What’s considered negligent, what’s merely an annoyance?
In previous blogs we’ve taken many an in-depth look at Negligence and what it means. To refresh, negligence is defined by law as follows:
“[…]Failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.”
When a driver acts in a negligent manner, they are often guilty of any number of the following transgressions:
- Failure to use their turn signals
- Failure to yield the right of way, forcing their way through despite the risks
- Failure to respect the speed limit (too fast or too slow); running a yellow light instead of slowing down
- Distracted driving: texting, looking for something in the back seat, eating, looking in a purse or backpack
Extensive experience required
To be able to determine fault, the victim’s board certified civil trial lawyer must be able to prove (using the legal method known as “burden of proof”) that the other driver was guilty of one or more negligent actions that were the direct causation of the accident. Remember: the aforementioned mentioned transgressions are only a brief list of scenarios that can be considered negligent by law and is in no way considered exhaustive.
While only an experienced board certified civil trial lawyer can provide legal advice to clients, there are some things victims of car accidents should always keep in mind and execute as quickly as possible after the accident:
- Document, document, document!: Take pictures, write down notes, and get copies of all police reports and insurance information as quickly as possible (if injuries do not prevent this). The more documentation available for a lawyer to look over, the better. This will help the lawyer determine what the victim is entitled to as far as compensation and damages to be awarded.
- Exchange information, if possible: if at all possible, it’s important to exchange information with the other driver. Police presence may be required and is in fact preferred, in order to keep any post-accident disputes from arising.
- Accept medical attention if offered: after an accident, it’s common for paramedics to be on the scene. If an EMT or paramedic offers medical attention or transport to a hospital, accept it! When a lawyer sees a potential client turned down medical assistance on the scene of an accident, but is claiming severe pain, this hurts their credibility. Credibility is one of the most important factors in a successful car accident case. Without credibility and the whole truth, the case won’t get far.
Every car accident claim is different, and as we stress on the Blog frequently, only board certified legal counsel can and should be the one to advise their client of the steps to take after an accident.
The driver behind you is at fault… most of the time!
There are so many situations that can pose a hazard on the road. As drivers, we must be aware of our surroundings and be able to quickly react to the ebb and flow of traffic as needed.
The reason for this is because at times, drivers are expected to stop suddenly to avoid a road hazard such as an animal, road work, or merely because traffic has slowed to a crawl (due to an accident or road work) and there is nowhere to go. If traffic suddenly slows due to an accident ahead and this scenario forces road closures, drivers are put at risk of being rear-ended by no fault of their own. It can merely be the one impatient driver that acts in a reckless manner, causing harm to those patiently waiting for traffic to start moving again.
Drivers are always, however, expected to have the required amount of distance between them and the car in front of them to prevent avoidable but serious accidents such as rear-ending. On the other hand, lets look at some situations where a driver would be considered negligent even though they were the one who was rear-ended:
- The driver has a flat tire and neglects to properly employ their hazard lights; the driver doesn’t pull all the way over to the shoulder while seeking help
- The driver fails to repair brake lights that don’t work and upon use, they don’t function properly or at all, making it impossible to signal intent
- A sudden stop in anticipation of turning, then failing to execute the turn or changing direction
- Distractions that cause drivers to keep the vehicle in reverse, backing up instead of moving forward with the flow of traffic
In these avoidable situations the driver would still be at fault, even though they were the one who was rear-ended. It’s of utmost importance to follow the rules of the road in the state in which the driver resides, and abide by the traffic laws in that state to avoid being at-fault for an accident that can cost financially, or worse, with someone’s life.
Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence: a closer look
There are times when, both drivers or multiple drivers are at-fault, leaving no single party completely innocent. The laws regarding these types of cases are different from state to state. Few states still employ a strict “contributory negligence” policy, but most have now established a “comparative negligence” system instead. The different between the two is important, and are defined below:
- Contributory negligence: in this situation under the law, if the driver bringing the suit can show evidence that the other driver was negligent in any way, that driver is now prohibited from obtaining any sort of compensation or damages in a lawsuit. This system is notoriously harsh, and few states even enforce it anymore.
- Comparative negligence: this system, the one most states now employ because it allocates fault between drivers, deals with reducing but not eliminating liability of the other driver who may be partially at fault for the accident.
To go into further detail, there are two distinct types of comparative negligence.
- Pure comparative negligence: this means liability is split according to the percentage of which is each driver is found to be at fault. The math to determine this is done in a way that distributes the cost of the damages between the parties fairly, not allowing one driver to claim above a certain amount from the other considering both drivers were in some capacity at fault. Each case is different and only an experienced attorney can help to determine the exact amount a party will receive.
- Modified comparative negligence: in this instance, liability is split according to the percentage of fault as well, but only up to a certain level where damages can be recovered. It differs from pure comparative negligence in that once a plaintiff meets or exceeds the determined level of fault, they cannot recover anything. The level is usually 50% at-fault but is determined on a case-by-case basis and by an experienced attorney.
Being rear-ended can cause motor vehicle damage, injury, and financial strain
Being injured and out of work is stressful, pile on medical bills while trying to recover from an accident and you may feel you have nowhere to turn. Our Car Accident Law series will conclude with Part 4, wrapping up all the most important information Florida drivers need on hand when navigating the increasingly busy Florida roads.