By: Law Office of Denise Adkison-Brown

Is the Driver of the Car Behind Always at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?

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This is a commonly held misconception by many drivers in Texas (and around the U.S.), but it’s not accurate. There are many reasons a car may rear-end another vehicle, and some of those reasons have nothing to do with the car behind. If you rear-ended someone, don’t immediately assume you’re liable. Call our office of experienced personal injury attorneys who can help walk you through your options and why you may or may not be liable.

What Are Some Reasons the Car Behind Isn’t at Fault for a Rear-End Collision?

There are a number of reasons why the car behind may not be at fault, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • The driver in front deliberately tried to get hit or acted out of road rage.
  • The car in front had broken brake lights, so the driver behind it couldn’t tell they were braking.
  • The driver in front was driving while under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol.
  • The driver in front reversed their car into the car behind them.

What if the Driver in Front of Me Braked Suddenly?

This is a situation that can potentially exonerate the driver behind the vehicle that braked unexpectedly. However, this one can be difficult to claim, since it can be argued that the driver behind was following too closely, which is unsafe. Texas law requires drivers to leave adequate space between vehicles on the road to avoid just this situation.

As to how much space a driver should leave, there’s no set guidelines, and much depends on road conditions. People driving at night, in bad weather, or driving in heavier vehicles should allow more space.

Another frequent cause of rear-end collisions is if the person driving behind another car is driving while distracted, such as checking their phone or adjusting the temperature or radio controls. This leaves them open to liability, since it’s well-established that distracted driving is a cause of many car accidents. Had they not been checking their phone or doing other things that took their eyes off the road, they could potentially have seen the driver in front of them braking in time to avoid rear-ending them.

Who’s Responsible if an Accident Involves Multiple Rear-End Collisions?

Everyone has seen the viral videos online, often footage from security cameras or dash cams: One car stops, often on a high-speed freeway, and the cars behind them pile into one another, like dominos falling and knocking the other dominos down. This is frequently seen during bad weather situations where drivers underestimate how slippery roads will be.

Who’s liable in these situations can be difficult to determine and prove. The people involved might have testimonials that are at odds with other people’s accounts. Someone at the front of the pileup may think one thing happened while someone further back has a different theory.

Often it’s the first two cars in the collision that end up responsible–but not always. There may be mitigating factors, such as a reckless driver who merged unexpectedly into the lane just head of the car that first slams on the brakes, causing the chain reaction. It could be unexpected debris in the road or an animal running into traffic. These types of cases are likely to head to a courtroom with the outcomes determined by a jury.

What if I Was Partially but not Fully at Fault for the Rear-End Collision?

Texas is a modified comparative fault (sometimes called a comparative negligence) state. That means the fault can be divided among multiple drivers. So the first driver might be deemed 25% at fault because they braked suddenly, but the second driver is regarded as 75% at fault because they were following too closely. The overall damages would be allotted as 75% for the driver who is only 25% at fault and the remainder for the driver who’s 75% at fault.

Like many other states, however, Texas caps comparative negligence at 51% or more. In other words, if one driver is determined to be at least 51% at fault, that driver is no longer eligible for damages.

What Should I Do if I Was in a Rear-End Collision?

Call us at 346-988-2170 to set up a free nationwide case review to go through your specific situation. If you’re the one who rear-ended someone else, make sure you don’t talk to the other driver’s insurance company or attorney. They represent the other driver, not you, and they’re likely going to try to get you to say something that could be construed as acknowledging you were at fault. If you were the one who was rear-ended, the same applies. You may even have the insurance company try to settle with you directly, but they’re hoping to pay out as little as possible, so don’t discuss a settlement with them or sign anything. Because Texas is a pure comparative fault state, it’s especially important not to give their attorney or insurance company any leverage for increasing the amount of fault assigned to you and reduced for their client.

Instead, refer them to your own attorney, who will know what to expect and how to negotiate. We’re here to help protect you and your interests, and we have the knowledge and background to handle these cases. We’re determined to make sure you receive the damages due you.

How Do I Get a Copy of the Police Report After My Car Accident?

Being involved in a car accident can be a traumatizing experience, and it’s no wonder that details could be hazy. Anytime there’s an accident involving motor vehicles, the police should be called to document the accident. There could be vital information in that report that you may need later. But given that the police department is part of the government, which means there’s bureaucracy involved, you may not be sure how to go about getting the report. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Would I Need a Copy of the Police Report About My Car Accident?

Whether or not you were the driver at fault for the accident, having a copy of the police report can help you (and your attorney) prepare your claims or potential lawsuits.

Police reports usually contain valuable facts such as the people involved in the accident, the make and model of the vehicles and how old they were, road and driving conditions at the time of the accident, statements from all the drivers involved about what happened and who they think was responsible, and the contact and insurance information for all drivers involved (or pedestrians and bicyclists, if relevant). If there are going to be claims or lawsuits, this is a foundational document for preparing the case.

Does the Police Report Prove Who’s Liable for the Accident?

Not necessarily. Sometimes the reporting officer may offer an opinion about who is responsible for the accident, but the report often includes the observed facts. Even if the officer does point to one party as likely being liable, this may not hold up in court. Police officers aren’t considered traffic accident experts, and their reports rarely include accident analysis.

How to Get a Copy of the Police Report

Police officers are required to file police reports about car accidents both with their local law enforcement office and with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). You can reach out to either agency to request a copy. Because the report may not be filed immediately after the accident, it’s best to wait a few days and contact the office ahead of time to see if it’s ready. Depending on the severity of the accident and the police officer’s workload or backlog of reports, it can take days or even weeks for it to be available. You can visit the office in person, or in the case of TxDOT, you can request the report online for a fee.

You can also request that your insurance company share the report with you, as they’re likely to request it (and are legally entitled to do so). If you’ve hired an attorney, they’re also legally allowed to request a copy of the report on your behalf. 

Are Police Reports About Car Accidents Private?

The answer is they’re somewhat private. Unlike criminal records, which are available to the public, car accident records are considered to have confidential information and are not available online in Texas.

That said, there are various people who legally have the right to receive the report:

  • The drivers of all involved vehicles
  • The insurance companies and/or attorneys representing anyone involved in the accident
  • Family members of someone killed in a car accident
  • Employers, parents, or legal guardians of anyone involved in the accident
  • Government agencies and news media

Are Police Reports Admissible in Court?

Not always. In Texas, they’re often considered “hearsay” and are mostly inadmissible. The hearsay doctrine applies to statements made outside the courtroom which are subject to these concerns: accidental miscommunication, insincerity, or faulty memory or perception. In other words, if the police officer is not a trained car accident expert, they may not have the knowledge or capability of making an accurate designation of liability.

However, Texas judges have the ability the allow the report in as evidence if they believe the hearsay concept doesn’t apply. Then it’s up to the person who objects to the report used as evidence to prove that it doesn’t meet the standards of miscommunication, insincerity, or faulty memory or perception.

What Should I Do if I Was in a Car Accident?

The first thing you should do is seek medical attention, even if you initially feel fine. Some injuries may not have symptoms right away. Then call us 24/7 at 346-818-3311 to set up a free nationwide case review. We can help you sort through who might be liable for the accident and how to obtain evidence, including the police report. That report isn’t the only evidence we’ll look for. Eyewitnesses and homes or businesses that have security cameras are also good sources for exploring liability. If necessary, we can work with traffic accident experts who have extensive experience in re-creating accident scenes to help determine who’s responsible. 

Something you should not do after a car accident that involves another driver: Talk to their insurance rep or attorney or sign any paperwork they send you. The rep or attorney is focused on protecting their client (and, in the case of the insurance company, focused on paying out as little as possible). They could try to lead you to say something that would either be used against you or to reduce their client’s liability. Refer any such calls to your attorney. 

Finally, as difficult as this may seem, don’t discuss the accident with family, friends, or neighbors. They could be called as witnesses if your case goes to trial. It’s best if you discuss your case only with your attorney and your insurance company.