The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates more than 2,000,000 rear-end crashes happen every year across the nation, including more than 550,000 collisions resulting in injuries and approximately 2,200 collisions resulting in one or more fatalities. Rear-end collisions make up more than 30 percent of all crashes, making them the most common type of traffic accident.
Rear-end traffic accidents are often preventable, making matters worse when someone suffers injuries. Fortunately, many walk away from rear-end crashes unscathed or with minor injuries. Yet, when these accidents occur at higher speeds, accident victims face serious injuries that can potentially lead to lifelong challenges.
If a negligent driver, who was likely distracted or going too fast for conditions, struck your vehicle in a rear-end traffic accident and you suffered injuries, it can be helpful to consult with an attorney who can help you recover compensation for your damages. Below, we offer more in-depth information about rear-end collisions including facts and research about rear-end collisions, steps you should take after being involved in a rear-end collision, and information about liability in these preventable crashes.
Research Findings About Rear-End Collisions
The status of rear-end collisions as the most common type of traffic accident has prompted state and local governments and agencies, as well researchers and engineers, to study rear-end crashes to learn more about how to prevent them. Findings that have emerged from research focusing on rear-end collisions include specifics about driver characteristics and the environment in which rear-end crashes occur.
- Drivers under the age of 18 are most likely to cause a rear-end collision. As driver age increases, the chances of a rear-end collision decreases.
- Young males are more likely to strike another vehicle than females are, regardless of the age group.
- More than 85 percent of rear-end crashes occur as a result of distracted driving. The NHTSA warns that eating and drinking in the vehicle, daydreaming, and using cell phones to talk or text are the most common distractions that lead to rear-end collisions. Other driver behaviors that can lead to a rear-end traffic accident include checking mirrors, reaching for things in the backseat or on the floor, and personal grooming.
- It is a common assumption that most rear-end collisions occur because the rear vehicle is following the lead too closely and tailgating. Yet, the NHTSA reports that in the vast majority of rear-end accidents, drivers in the rear maintain a safe following distance behind the car in front of them.
- Most rear-end collisions happen when the lead vehicle is stopped at a traffic control device or in heavy traffic.
- Most-rear-end collisions take place when weather conditions are clear.
Types of Injuries in Rear-End Collisions
Many factors impact the type of injuries that drivers and occupants sustain in a rear-end traffic accident including the location where someone is seated in a vehicle when the collision occurs, the speed upon impact, and whether passengers and drivers are wearing seat belts. Injuries you might have sustained, or could sustain, in a rear-end collision include:
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue refers to the tendons, ligaments, and muscles in our bodies. If a driver strikes the rear of your car, the impact of the collision causes your body to quickly move forward and backward. As the force of impact increases with speed, so does the back and forth motion of the body. In the most severe crashes, driver and occupant bodies violently move back and forth, stretching soft tissue far past its normal range of motion.
The most common soft tissue injuries are sprains and strains, which are the partial tearing of muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments that occur after they are stretched too far during a collision. Sprains, strains, and other soft tissue injuries can occur in any part of the body. Seat belts and shoulder harnesses help secure the body during a collision and prevent movement. Soft tissue injuries in the neck happen frequently during rear-end collisions, especially those that occur at high speeds.
After a minor accident, many soft tissue injuries heal on their own with proper rest and care after a few weeks or a few months. Yet, severe rear-end collisions can cause so much movement that drivers and occupants can suffer from a complete tear of one or more tendons or ligaments. Complete tears from a car accident are much like an athlete tearing their ACL; surgical repair is typically required. Even after surgery, rear-end accident victims may face discomfort and soreness from scar tissue and might face arthritis at the site of the injury later on in life.
Back and Neck Injuries
The same motion from a rear-end collision that causes soft tissue injuries in the necks of drivers and passengers can also cause other severe back neck injuries. The force from the crash can lead to herniated discs in the spine. Also, backseat passengers who hit their heads on something in front of them are at risk for fractured neck vertebrae. When fractures occur, pieces of bone can get lodged in the spinal cord and also lead to spinal cord injuries.
Disc-related injuries often result in chronic pain and discomfort for accident victims. Sometimes corrective surgery helps alleviate some pain, but oftentimes accident victims who suffer serious back and neck injuries in a rear-end collision cope with chronic pain for life.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
The impact of a rear-end collision can also lead to a traumatic brain injury. When a driver’s or passenger’s head jerks violently upon impact, the brain moves around in the skull, causing damage to the brain. Traumatic brain injuries, often from concussions, can heal on their own after a few weeks or months. Yet, in other cases, a TBI can cause permanent brain damage.
Rear-end accident victims who suffer moderate to severe TBIs face different struggles depending on the severity of their injury and the location of the brain affected.
Some long-term complications often associated with a traumatic brain injury include:
- Struggles with cognitive thinking such as reasoning and memory
- Difficulty with senses, especially vision and hearing
- Challenges with communication including trouble speaking, understanding, and expressing ideas
- Personality changes—especially increased aggression
Steps to Take After a Rear-End Collision
Whether you have already experienced a rear-end collision or you want to be prepared for the future, the information below offers some steps you should take afterward if you are physically able.
- Call 911 if your rear-end collision is more than a bump in a parking lot, so law enforcement, first responders, and ambulances come to the scene of the accident.
- Accept medical treatment at the scene or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. Drivers involved in rear-end collisions sometimes refuse medical treatment because they can walk away from the accident. The injuries discussed above sometimes take hours or days to show symptoms. Additionally, an accident is a traumatic event that typically releases adrenaline throughout the body. Adrenaline masks pain. Even if you do not feel pain, you still could have suffered an injury. A doctor can examine you for common accident injuries and document any findings in your medical record, which could help support an insurance claim and potential car accident lawsuit.
- Get information from the driver who rear-ended you. Record the make, model, and license plate number from the vehicle that hit you. You should also get the other driver’s name, contact information, and insurance information. The police will also get this information, but sometimes they arrive late to the scene, or they make an error in the official crash report. When you gather the information yourself, you can cross-check it with law enforcement’s record of the accident.
- Use your cell phone to take pictures at the scene of the accident. Take photos of the damage to the rear of your vehicle and the front of the other driver’s vehicle. Also, take photos of any visible injuries and anything else you think might be relevant to your claim. Photographic evidence makes it more difficult for the driver, his or her insurance carrier, or another legal team to deny the accident occurred.
- File an insurance claim under your personal injury protection (PIP) policy, if you have one. Even when the other driver is clearly at fault, your PIP coverage will kick in to cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages, up to your policy limit. You might want a car accident lawyer to handle your PIP claim, however, to make sure it pays the benefits you deserve.
- Contact an experienced car accident lawyer. PIP insurance does not compensate you for the non-economic ways that your injuries have impacted your life (such as pain and suffering or a reduced quality of life). A skilled attorney could help you file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company once you have exhausted your PIP limits, negotiate the claim, guide you through the settlement process, and litigate your case in court when settlement is not an option.
- Only communicate about the accident with your lawyer. Friends and family who are concerned about you and the outcome of your claim will likely show interest in the details of your rear-end collision and your case. Although it might be tempting to share, it is better to remain silent about these things until your claim is resolved. Insurance adjusters and defense legal teams will do everything possible to devalue your claim, including interviewing your loved ones. They might use something you say, or something a loved one says, against you. This can negatively impact the outcome of your case.
- Do not post on social media until your rear-end accident claim concludes. Insurance adjusters and investigators will also try to get access to any social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Even posts not-related to your accident and injuries can hurt your case. For example, if you post pictures of a family vacation, the insurance company or other legal team might argue you are healing better than expected, so you do not deserve as much compensation.
Liability in Rear-End Collisions
Proving fault and placing blame after a traffic accident is not always an easy task for insurance adjusters, lawyers, and investigations. Yet, rear-end collisions are typically much clearer than other accident cases with regard to liability. Typically, in rear-end collisions, the driver in the rear vehicle will be financially liable for damages related to injuries from the accident. Insurance companies and defense legal teams will likely question this assumption and do what they can to undermine it.
The insurance company and/or their legal team might employ one or more of the following tactics to avoid financial responsibility or reduce the payout:
- Argue that you were driving erratically or making sudden movements, and the other driver could not avoid the collision.
- Argue you were distracted while driving (using your phone, eating, adjusting your seat, etc.).
- Argue that you were driving aggressively and hit your brakes to cause a collision.
- Argue you violated one or more traffic regulations.
- Argue you were using drugs or were under the influence of alcohol.
- Argue you had a preexisting injury and the accident did not cause your injury.
- Deny the alleged at-fault driver was not actually the person driving the vehicle that hit you.
If the insurance company succeeds in proving your partially at fault for a rear-end collision, you could still collect damage under the law.
The most common damages included in a settlement or jury award include:
- Medical treatment costs, including your initial emergency room visit, hospitalization, diagnostic imaging, surgery and associated costs, and follow-up visits. In the most severe rear-end collision cases, this can include estimated future costs.
- Lost wages and benefits due to taking time off of work for injury, hospitalization, and rehabilitation.
- Rehabilitation costs for physical therapy and other medically necessary specialized treatment.
- Physical pain and suffering for your injuries.
- Emotional pain and suffering.
- Reduced quality of life.
- Loss of consortium if applicable.
Suffering injuries in a rear-end collision can devastate accident victims and their families. Get the help, guidance, and advice you need from an experienced car accident attorney today.