Rear end accidents are among the most common type of car accidents. Federal collision data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that rear end crashes make up nearly 30 percent of all collisions in the United States.
As is the case with all vehicular accidents, the severity of rear end accidents can range from a minor fender bender to totaled vehicles and trapped occupants. It is important for car accident victims who are considering legal action to understand the many factors and causes of rear end accidents, as well as the medical and legal issues that can have long-term consequences.
Causes of Rear End Accidents
Some of the more common causes of rear end auto accidents include:
- Speeding. Traveling at a high rate of speed, especially in busy traffic conditions, can make it difficult to stop in a reasonable amount of time. Many rear-end accidents are caused by drivers who are not obeying the speed limit or driving too fast for traffic conditions.
- Following too closely. Impatient drivers who do not allow adequate room to compensate for the flow of traffic or sudden braking can easily find themselves at-fault for a rear-end crash.
- Aggressive or reckless driving. Weaving through traffic at a high rate of speed, tailgating, and road rage are all common causes of rear-end accidents.
- Distracted driving. Drivers who use cell phones or are otherwise distracted behind the wheel will have diminished reaction times and are often at-fault for rear-end accidents.
- Poor weather conditions. Rain, snow, and ice can negatively impact a vehicle’s ability to brake or turn. Many rear-end collisions occur in these weather conditions.
What to do After a Rear End Collision
While drivers can be prepared for any circumstance on the road, being involved in a rear end collision is unlike any other experience. You could be stopped at a stop sign or stop light, in a parking lot, at a crosswalk, or slowing down for heavy traffic. The reality is that these incidents are unpredictable and nearly impossible to avoid.
In the event that you are in a rear end accident, follow this roadmap:
- Take a deep breath. It’s crucial that in this situation that you remain calm and don’t panic. While it’s a shocking event and you may be scared, it’s important that you have a clear head.
- Check for injuries. Assess yourself first for injuries and help others if possible. Many people involved in rear end collisions suffer a concussion or other form of brain injury, and it may not be obvious right away if the injury is present. Error on the side of caution. You should go to the hospital or Urgent Care to be checked out, even if you think you are not hurt. You are more likely to receive a higher settlement if you have your injuries documented by a medical professional right away.
- Call the police. No matter the severity of the accident, you should call the police and report the collision to the proper authorities. Establishing a paper trail and having the incident documented is key.
- Take pictures of the scene. There’s no such thing as too much evidence after a rear end collision. Most phones have high quality cameras that you can use to document the entire scene, including photos/videos of the vehicles, roadway, injuries, etc.
- Collect witness contact information. If there are witnesses to your rear end collision, collect their contact information as it may be useful to an attorney down the line.
- Get a copy of the accident report. In the following days after the rear end accident, contact the police and obtain a copy of the officer’s report.
- Contact your insurance company. Even if you were not at fault for the accident, it’s important that you notify your insurance company about the incident. If you live in a no fault state, your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance would cover your injuries, regardless of fault.
- Look for a personal injury attorney. If you have suffered injuries in your rear end accident, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options. Insurance companies are notorious for offering lowball settlement offers, and hiring an experienced attorney can unlock thousands in additional compensation for you and your family. Don’t count on a fair offer from the insurance company.
Determining Fault After a Rear End Accident
We’ve already determined that rear end accidents are among the most common on the road. These incidents are so common that state courts work from a predetermined playbook when it comes to assigning liability for these accidents.
The driver in the second, striking vehicle is usually found at fault. That is just the reality of the situation, as driver’s have a responsibility to keep a safe and reasonable distance from the vehicle in front of them. Following the rules of the road, being attentive and not tailgating would eliminate 99% of rear end collisions. This applies regardless of why the first vehicle slowed or stopped.
The courts operate under the assumption that the rear vehicle is at fault for these collisions. That constitutes negligence, and could therefore be the basis of a personal injury claim to recover damages for the accident.
There are exceptions, however. For example, if a drunk or distracted driver brakes suddenly for an object in the road, causing the driver following them to smash into them. So while the striking driver would usually be found at fault, the driver of the car that was hit was negligent (drunk, texting, etc.). This also applies for reversing — if the second car was backed into, the rear end bumper accident is not their fault.
Courts will look at negligence when determining fault for an accident. All drivers have a duty to be safe on the road, and when a driver fails to do so, that constitutes negligence. If you want to prove fault for an accident, you must show that the other driver’s negligence was the cause of the crash.
The Rear End Collision Settlement Process
Once you have received medical treatment for your injuries, it may be in your best interest to consult with a personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options. If you choose to hire a lawyer to handle your case, the process is more complicated than simply submitting a claim to the insurance company and getting a check to cover your losses.
The personal injury settlement process can go quickly, or it can take several years. It may be easy and drama-free, or your attorney may face challenges along the way. The following are the steps involved:
- Investigation. Once your attorney files a personal injury claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company, the insurance company will conduct its own investigation into the accident. This is done by an adjuster. The adjuster will review all the available evidence, determine liability, examine your medical records if you have signed a release, and come up with their own conclusion about your claim.
- Consultation with experts. Your attorney should have the knowledge and financial resources to hire experts to bolster your claim for damages. Cases can be won or lost based on the testimony of experts, including doctors, accident reconstructionists, or engineers. These opinions will all be factored into the settlement.
- Review insurance policies. Your attorney should know what type of insurance is available in the case and where compensation can be recovered from. This isn’t always obvious, and an experienced lawyer can unlock additional money.
- Filing a lawsuit. If a settlement cannot be reached with the insurance provider, your lawyer might need to take your case to civil court.
- Negotiating a settlement. Even if you file a lawsuit, both parties are free to negotiate a settlement out of court. Throughout the entire process, your attorney and the insurance company will likely be negotiating a settlement.
Determining the Average Settlement for a Rear End Collision
While thousands of rear end collisions occur in the United States each day, there is no formula for determining the average settlement value of each accident. The nature of the accident, the extent of the injuries, the degree of liability, and the value of the medical bills are just some of the pieces that form the basis of your settlement.
A good rule of thumb is that the more severe the injuries, the greater the settlement value. For example, a rear end accident that results in a traumatic brain injury will likely result in a larger settlement than an accident with only whiplash. Of course both of these injuries are significant and should be compensated, but one is clearly more devastating.
Here’s an idea of what to expect after being rear ended:
While a personal injury attorney may not handle the property damage portion of your claim, the costs associated with repairing your vehicle should not be ignored. Most damage is obvious — for example, a bumper damage or cracked windshield — while other damage is concealed. Damage to a vehicle’s frame may not be obvious, and could be extremely costly in the long run. It’s a good idea to have your vehicle completely checked by a mechanic after any type of rear end crash. The repair cost may be high, but it could save you in the long run. You don’t want to run into any car problems after your rear end collision.
The medical bills and related treatment are usually the biggest factor in determining the value of a rear end collision claim. The types of medical expenses include:
- Surgeries. Serious accidents can result in injuries that require one or more surgeries to fix or stabilize. Surgery can be expensive, especially life-saving procedures.
- Emergency room visits. While completely necessary and unavoidable, emergency room visits are not cheap.
- Doctors visits. Every subsequent return to the doctor’s office should be paid for by the insurance company of the person that caused your accident.
- Chiropractor sessions. If your injury requires a chiropractic session to help relieve pain, that is included in the medical expenses.
- Medications. Prescription medication is often given to victims of severe rear end collisions where the vehicle is a total loss to help relieve pain.
- Ambulance rides. If you had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance, those rides are not cheap.
- Physical therapy. The long-term physical recovery you make is often contingent on routine and supervised physical therapy sessions.
- In-home care. If your collision resulted in injuries that will affect you for months and years to come, your in-home treatment should be considered in your settlement package.
- Medical testing procedures. You should record any costs for related to blood tests, MRI or CT scans, X-rays, and any other tools your doctors use to diagnose your injuries.
- Mental health treatment. Victims of accidents often have mental trauma as a result of the accident. Costs associated with visits to psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health professionals should be part of the settlement.
If your rear end collision caused you to miss time from work, and therefore miss a paycheck, wages or tips, you are entitled to recover those through the personal injury settlement process.
It is important that your employer verify that it was the accident that caused you to miss time from work. Accident victims typically show a note from a medical provider that releases the patient from work. If you take off work without a doctor’s note, the insurance adjuster will likely contest your claim for lost wages.
Additionally, you will have to prove just how much money you lost from not being able to work because of your injuries. Pay stubs or other forms of wage verification is necessary to prove that you have a valid wage loss claim.
Pain and Suffering
A highly subjective item on your settlement demand, pain and suffering can be hotly contested by the insurance company. Generally, the more severe the injuries and the accident, the more you will receive for pain and suffering.
Even before you choose to hire an attorney, keep a daily journal of how you are feeling after the accident. Detail the physical activities you can and cannot do, your pain level, your emotional state, etc. This can go a long way when it comes time for an attorney to prove pain and suffering damages.
Examples of Rear End Collision Settlements
Seattle-based Davis Law Group has handled thousands of rear end collision cases over the past 25 years. Over that time, our law firm has handled rear end cases both big and small, and everything in between.
The following are real life cases involving actual victims, listed below to give you a better idea of what an average payout might look like:
- $350,000. Our client was a passenger in a Mercedes SUV that was rear ended by a speeding driver. The force of the accident burst the gas tank and caused more than $40,000 in damage to the SUV. Our client sustained serious spinal injuries which required a multi-level surgical fusion procedure, followed by several months of physical therapy and chiropractic treatment.
- $300,000. Our client was rear ended on the highway when the at-fault driver bent over to pick up a cigarette he dropped. Our client was treated for a broken hand, disc protrusion and nerve damage as the result of a rear-end collision on I-5. She needed a cortisone injection, an epidural in her lower back and a microdisectomy at her L5-S1, as well as physical therapy.
- $135,000. Our client was a back seat passenger in a friend’s car. Her friend rear ended another vehicle at about 30 to 40 miles per hour. Her medical bills were not cheap. Most of the settlement money came from a claim with her family's uninsured motorist coverage.
- $126,000. Our client had slowed for traffic when he was rear ended by a driver traveling 15-30 miles per hour. The at-fault driver was cited with negligent driving in the second degree. Our client’s medical bills and treatment approached $30,000, which included nine Cognitive Processing Therapy sessions for his PTSD.
- $50,000. Our client suffered whiplash and a broken wrist when she was rear ended by a drunk driver at a stop sign.
- $30,000. Our client was hit by a driver while in stop-and-go traffic on the highway.
Rear End Collision Settlement Calculator
Despite what other websites and the insurance company might tell you, there is no such thing as an accident settlement calculator. You may see various formulas that attempt to simplify the process and spit out a monetary value, but these estimates do not factor in the specifics of your case.
Rear end collision cases are nuanced and involve months and years of investigation, treatment and negotiations before a settlement is reached. The quality of your attorney also makes a huge difference in maximizing your claim. An experienced lawyer will know exactly how to calculate your rear end accident settlement better than any calculator online.
Typical Injuries in Rear End Accidents
It is extremely important for accident victims to seek medical treatment and undergo testing after a serious crash, especially if they wish to pursue legal action against the at-fault driver.
There is a wide-range of injuries that crash victims suffer in rear end collisions, but some of the more common fender bender injuries we see from these crashes include:
- Whiplash. A very common injury in rear-end collisions, as the rear impact often leads to the neck being jerked around suddenly without warning.
- Lacerations. Shattered glass and broken pieces of metal, as well as objects flying throughout the vehicle, can cause serious injuries in the form of a cut to the skin or worse.
- Fractures and broken bones. Particularly in high-speed rear-end impacts, the violent nature of these collisions can cause bones to fracture or break completely.
- Back pain. A wide variety of back and neck injuries occur in rear end collisions. Neck pain is quite common after these accidents.
- Brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries in car accidents typically occur when the initial impact causes a victim to strike their head on something inside of the vehicle.
- Bulging or herniated discs. The discs and vertebrae in the neck and back can become severely damaged in the event of a high-speed rear-end collision.
These are just some of the more common injuries we see in rear-end accident. Regardless of the type of injury suffered, accident victims should focus on getting a clear diagnosis and treatment for any injuries they suffer in a collision.
Rear End Motorcycle and Bicycle Collisions
Rear end motorcycle and bicycle accidents happen more often than you would think. Just like in rear end car accidents, drivers may hit a motorcyclist or bicyclist in front of them when traffic suddenly comes to a stop or if a driver is not paying attention.
These accidents can cause serious damage, impacting the person on the motorcycle or bicycle directly or throwing them forward over their handlebars.
When a car runs into a motorcycle, it may life the back wheel off the ground and flip the motorcyclist and the bike forward and onto the pavement. In extreme situations at high speeds, the motorist may run over the motorcyclist if they cannot stop in time.
Motorcyclists and bicyclists involved in rear end collisions often sustain devastating losses due to medical expenses, lost income and benefits, pain and suffering, and much more. Consult with a lawyer in your area to learn more about your legal rights.
Questions from Actual Rear End Accident Victims
Veteran attorney Chris Davis of the Seattle-based Davis Law Group answered some of the most common questions regarding rear end accidents.
What is the average settlement amount for a rear end car accident?
Chris Davis: “A nearly endless amount of factors influence of the value of a rear end collision settlement. A few of the variables include the severity of the injuries, property damage, insurance coverage, medical expenses, age, pain and suffering, and victim’s driving history. Do not trust any settlement calculators that you might see out there.”
How long does a rear end car accident settlement take to resolve?
Davis: “Each rear end accident case is different, but all cases follow the same general path: pleading, discovery, trial, and a potential appeal. Throughout that process, both your attorney and the insurance adjuster will be negotiating for a settlement. For small claims where the impact is relatively minor or there is no visible damage, these cases can take about 30 to 90 days, but may be longer. If your case is proceeding to court, the discovery phase along may take six months to a year to complete. Finally, if your case makes it all the way to trial, you are looking at 2-3 years before everything is over.”
What if my rear end car accident injuries and vehicle damage are only minor?
Davis: “If you consider your accident a minor collision — meaning there aren’t any severe injuries or there is only minimal property damage — making the right choices afterwards is still important. Make sure you receive medical attention, call the police and notify your insurance company to get things moving in the right direction. Even a crash at 5 mph or 20 mph can cause damage, and there may be underlying medical issues that aren’t obvious. Having an established treatment record started is key if you hope to file a personal injury claim for damages. You must also factor in the emotional stress that these incidents cause, or any missed time from work as potential damages.”
I got rear ended...how much money will I get?
Davis: “Depending on the severity of your rear end accident, you may benefit from consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to discuss your legal options. Each case is different, and an attorney can evaluate your damages and your road to recovery to better give you an idea of a possible settlement.”
How much is a rear end accident worth?
Davis: “This can vary greatly, and nobody can guarantee you what you will receive in settlement money. Insurance companies are inherently greedy and will fight to protect their money if you have injuries.”
Who is at fault when you get rear-ended?
Davis: “In most of the rear end cases that we handle, the person that smashes into the rear of the car in front of them is usually at fault. But liability is not automatically placed on the striking driver, and an investigation into the collision may determine that the rear driver is not at fault. Understanding the circumstances related to your particular accident is important when placing blame and assigning fault.”
I got rear-ended, will my insurance go up?
Davis: “If you were rear-ended and played no part in the collision happening, your claim would be filed against the other driver’s insurance because they were at fault. This should not impact your insurance policy nor would you be to blame since you were not at fault. But this question is best left to your insurance company, as they will look at your driving record and a number of different factors before making a decision.”
What does it mean to be rear-ended?
Davis: “Rear end accidents occur when a car crashes into the rear of another vehicle. These can be minor fender benders/low impact/low speed collisions or result in serious injuries, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Was a seat belt being worn? How fast was the rear driver going? How old was the driver who was hit? These all impact the collision.”
Will my premium go up if I wasn’t at fault for the car accident?
Davis: “Each insurance company is different, and their determination of your insurance premium is based on a number of factors. Generally, the riskier of a driver you are the higher your insurance premium will be. That’s because you are more likely to be involved in an accident, therefore potentially costing the insurance company more money.”
I got rear ended but there was no damage or injuries. Should I still talk to an attorney?
Davis: “Most personal injury attorneys that handle rear end accident cases offer free case evaluations. That means there is no obligation or cost to discussing the circumstances of your accident with a qualified professional lawyer. Making sure all your bases are covered can put your mind at ease and help you move on. Regardless of the severity of your accident, it’s important to get medical treatment just in case, call the police and document the scene.”
Who is at fault in a rear end collision involving 3 cars?
Davis: “Chain reaction, 3-car rear end or pileup collisions are difficult to assess. Fault may be assigned to multiple parties. If you were following too closely when you were rear-ended, therefore contributing to a chain reaction crash, you may be assigned some of the fault for the accident. It’s a safe bet that if you rear-ended someone, regardless of whether you were pushed into another car, the lead vehicle will try to pin the blame on you.”
I rear ended someone who slammed on their brakes. Is that my fault?
Davis: “Generally the driver who hits the car in front of them is found at fault, regardless of how or why the lead driver acted. Drivers have a responsibility to be safe on the road, and that includes keeping a safe following distance and being attentive at all times. But every situation is unique.”
What do I look for after a rear end collision?
Davis: “With regards to your health after an accident, it’s best to go to a doctor, even if everything seems fine. As far as your vehicle is concerned, you’ll want to take it to a mechanic and have it checked. There may be hidden damage, the trunk may be damaged or the vehicle’s alignment may be altered due to the crash. Unless you are an expert with cars, you probably will not be able to see these things.”
I was rear ended...how much should I settle for?
Davis: “If you are involved in a rear end collision and you have received a settlement offer from the insurance company, only you can make the decision whether that’s satisfactory. An attorney handling your case can advise you on the best path, but ultimately it’s up to you whether you want to settle or push for more.”
If someone brake checks you who is at fault?
Davis: “If you rear end someone that was brake checking you, that likely means that you were tailgating or following too closely in the first place. If that’s the case, you will almost certainly be found at fault. But if the lead car's brake lights were not functioning or they were under the influence at the time of the crash, that may impact the liability of the accident.”
At what speed do airbags deploy in a rear end collision?
Davis: “Most studies have shown that vehicle airbags will deploy in collisions of about 12 to 15 mph against a solid barrier, or about 25 mph against another car.”
What happens to your body when you get rear ended
Davis: “Being rear-ended means your body is usually violently thrown around your vehicle, causing you to suffer injuries including whiplash, concussions, neck and back pain, and many more.”
How do I win a rear end collision case?
Davis: “The most important thing you can do to win your case is to receive prompt medical treatment, have your accident documented by the police, and report your accident to the insurance company. Those three things, combined with contacting an attorney to handle the discussions with the insurance company, will greatly help you win your case.”
Rear End Accident Attorneys in Washington
Although the following vehicle is usually found at-fault for a rear end crash, car accident victims who have been hit from behind shouldn't get complacent and expect that everything will go smoothly. Obtaining a copy of the police report, seeking prompt medical care and treatment, collecting and documenting relevant evidence, and carefully filing a claim with the insurance company are important first steps that should be taken quickly.
Once a victim’s injuries have been diagnosed, a prognosis for recovery has been established, and the insurance company has responded to the claim, it may be a good idea to contact an experienced attorney who has experience handling rear-end accident cases.
The Seattle personal injury attorneys at Davis Law Group will review your car accident case absolutely free and help you better understand your legal rights and options. If we believe we can add value to your claim and increase the chances of a successful outcome, we’ll invite you to our office for a free legal consultation. Call our office in Seattle at (206) 727-4000 or use the confidential contact form on this page to have your case reviewed by our award-winning legal team.