Is the Rear Driver Always at Fault in a Rear-End Accident in South Carolina?

Auto Accidents

Many people may have heard the myth that “the rear driver is always at fault in rear-end accidents.” While it is certainly true that the person driving the rear vehicle is usually at fault, it certainly is not the case that the rear driver is always at fault.

The reason rear drivers are usually at fault for rear-end accidents is simple. Typically, drivers who pay attention to the road or who leave a safe distance between themselves and other vehicles do not slam into vehicles that are directly in front of them. As a result, in most cases, rear drivers are liable for any damage that results from rear-end collisions in which they were involved.

So—when can the driver in the front vehicle face liability for a rear-end collision? Here are some common scenarios:

Malfunctioning Tail Lights or Brake Lights

Drivers have a duty to comply with traffic laws, including those that relate to the condition of vehicles on the road—such as those requiring vehicles to have working taillights or brake lights. These lights alert drivers to the presence of vehicles ahead and let them know that a vehicle in front of them may slow down or stop. If malfunctioning or inoperable taillights or brake lights cause a rear-end accident, the driver in the front may face liability for the crash.

Driving Unreasonably Slowly or Making Sudden, Unexpected Stops

In some cases, driving too slowly or making a sudden stop may result in liability for the front driver in a rear-end collision. As is the case with all accidents, the question that determines liability is whether either driver acted unreasonably. Driving at less than the posted minimum speed limit on an interstate may constitute unreasonable behavior, as may slamming on the brakes without a reason to do so.

Dangerous Lane Changes

Some drivers become impatient with traffic or do not pay attention and try to change lanes too closely in front of other vehicles. This is commonly referred to as cutting off another driver and, all too often, the rear driver cannot avoid hitting the car that dangerously changed lanes. Cutting off other drivers can result from aggressive driving, distracted driving, failing to check blind spots, and other negligent behaviors, for which the rear driver may hold the front driver accountable.

Dangerous Turns

Drivers making right-hand turns without a signal are expected to fully watch for oncoming traffic and avoid turning when cars approach. However, some drivers may make right turns without properly looking or may simply ignore the right-of-way. This can lead to an oncoming driver crashing into the car that made the right-hand turn. In this situation, the front driver can often face liability for the crash.

Rear Driver Liability

The rear driver may be presumed to be at fault for one specific reason—the rear driver is more commonly responsible than the front driver. Rear drivers can be negligent that lead to rear-end collisions, including:

  • Distracted driving, which prevents a driver from noticing when a car slows down or stops in front of them
  • Drunk driving, which can cause a driver to misjudge distance between cars or to lose focus on the traffic in front of them
  • Fatigued driving, which can result in a lack of concentration, and also falling asleep at the wheel, causing them to crash into whatever is ahead
  • Speeding, which makes it difficult to slow down or stop as fast as necessary
  • Tailgating, which does not leave enough room for a driver to stop when needed

What if Both Drivers Were Partially at Fault?

In many rear-end collisions, both drivers are partially at fault for the collision. In these cases, South Carolina’s comparative negligence statute dictates that a party who is less than 50 percent at fault for an accident can still recover compensation for losses, but the recovery of compensation will decrease by the proportion of fault. So, for example, if you rear end a person whose brake lights were out and are nonetheless determined to be 40 percent at fault because you followed too close to stop in time, you may still recover compensation for 60 percent of the damages that you incurred (100 percent – 40 percent = 60 percent).

Losses From Rear-end Crashes

Determining and properly apportioning fault is critical because surprisingly extensive losses can stem from a rear-end crash. While this type of accident is often called a “fender-bender” and considered relatively minor, in reality, rear-end accidents can cause serious, lasting injuries. Such injuries can include:

  • Concussions – Hitting your head on the interior of your car or suffering a jolt to the head can result in damage to your brain tissue, leaving you with a concussion.
  • Whiplash – Whiplash commonly results from rear-end accidents that cause a person’s head to move forward and then quickly backward. Injury to the soft tissue of the neck can hurt and can require months of physical therapy to repair.
  • Back injuries – The sudden impact of a rear-end crash can cause tissue sprains and strains in your back that can limit movement and cause serious pain.

Many rear-end accident injuries can result in medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and more, and victims deserve to recover for their losses from the responsible party.

Call Hughey Law Today to Speak with a Charleston Car Accident Lawyer

People injured in rear-end accidents are often entitled to significant compensation, and you should never assume that a particular party caused an accident without speaking to an experienced attorney. At the Hughey Law Firm, we will review the facts of your case at no cost to you, and let you know whether we believe that you have a case. To schedule your free consultation with a car accident attorney in Charleston, send us an email or call our office today at (843) 881-8644.