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How to Prove Liability in a Rear-End Collision

Rear end car accident

If you or a family member were injured in a rear-end collision, you may be wondering about financial compensation. How will you pay to fix your car? What happens if you are forced to miss time at work? Who pays if you are hospitalized?

Determining who is at-fault is usually straightforward when a rear-end accident happens. However, understanding the essential steps to prove liability can substantially affect the outcome. In this blog, the California car accident attorneys at Wisner Baum break down what you need to know to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

If you were rear-ended, call us today for a free and fast case evaluation. We represent clients on a contingency fee basis, which means if we do not win compensation on your behalf, you do not pay.

Call us today at 855-948-5098 or complete our case evaluation form to get started.

What Is A Rear-End Collision?

A rear-end collision occurs when one vehicle crashes into the back of another vehicle in front of it. Typically caused by tailgating, distracted driving, or sudden stops, these accidents are among the most common on the road. According to the Washington Post, there are approximately 1.7 million rear-end collisions on U.S. roads annually. These accidents can result in a range of injuries, from minor whiplash to more serious neck and spinal injuries, depending on the speed and force of impact. Understanding the causes and consequences of rear-end collisions underscores the importance of defensive driving and maintaining a safe following distance to prevent such accidents.

What Is Tailgating?

Tailgating refers to the dangerous practice of driving too closely behind another vehicle, often at an unsafe distance, that does not allow sufficient time to react if the vehicle in front suddenly brakes or slows down. According to the California Vehicle Code, specifically sections 22350 and 21703, drivers must maintain a reasonable and prudent speed while keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, considering factors like traffic conditions and road surface. This is crucial for ensuring the safety of everyone on the road, as tailgating significantly increases the risk of rear-end collisions, among the most common types of accidents. By adhering to these guidelines, drivers can help prevent accidents and promote safer driving practices on California highways and roads.

What To Do After A Rear-End Collision In California

If you've been involved in a rear-end collision in California, taking several immediate steps to protect yourself and begin the claims process is crucial. First, seek medical attention, even if you feel okay, as some injuries might not be immediately apparent. Documenting any injuries is essential for insurance claims and legal purposes. Obtain a police report by contacting local law enforcement to document the incident. Gather records such as insurance information, contact details of witnesses, and photos of the accident scene, including damage to vehicles and any road conditions that may have contributed to the collision. It's advisable to notify your insurance company promptly and consult a lawyer specializing in personal injury cases, especially if you're facing significant medical bills or disputes with insurance providers. A lawyer can guide you through the claims process, protect your rights, and help you seek compensation for damages and injuries sustained in the rear-end collision. Taking these steps diligently can streamline the process and increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome in your case.

Common Rear-End Crash Injuries

Common injuries resulting from rear-end collisions can include:

  • Whiplash
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Concussions
  • Broken bones, especially in the wrists, arms, or legs
  • Facial injuries from airbag deployment or impact
  • Soft tissue injuries like strains and sprains
  • Psychological injuries such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

These injuries can vary in severity depending on the speed and force of impact, emphasizing the importance of seeking medical attention promptly after any rear-end collision, even if symptoms are not immediately apparent. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve recovery outcomes for victims of such accidents.

Who Is At Fault For A Rear-End Collision?

Most of the time, the driver who rear-ends another vehicle is liable for the accident. This is based on the principle that drivers must maintain a safe following distance and be able to stop safely if the vehicle in front of them brakes suddenly.

However, there are exceptions to this general rule, depending on specific circumstances. For instance, if the vehicle in front suddenly reverses unexpectedly, fails to signal a turn or lane change, or has malfunctioning brake lights, the driver of the following vehicle may argue that these actions or defects contributed to the collision and shift some or all of the fault to the leading driver. Similarly, if road conditions are poor or obstructions on the roadway make it difficult to see or maneuver safely, the fault might be shared or attributed differently. Additionally, cases involving multiple vehicles or where another driver's actions contribute to a chain reaction collision can complicate fault determination.

Remember, liability in a rear-end crash can vary based on specific circumstances, state laws, and the findings of insurance companies or a jury. Consulting with a lawyer can help you better understand your legal rights and your path to recovering compensation.


In California, you must prove that the other driver was negligent under common law or violated California’s Vehicle Code.

Establishing common law negligence in California requires a claimant to demonstrate the following:

  • Duty of Care: Every driver has a duty of care to operate their vehicle responsibly, which means they must safely operate the vehicle, adhere to traffic laws, and avoid harming others.
  • Breach of Duty: The other driver failed to operate the vehicle responsibly, thus breaching their duty of care.
  • Causation: Linking the breach of duty of care directly to the rear-end crash.
  • Damages: The accident caused the claimant harm—either physical injury or property damage.

To establish common law negligence, you must gather necessary evidence, including a police report, crash photos, witness statements, and more. A car accident lawyer is best suited to help with this important part of your claim.

The other way to prove liability in a California rear-end collision is to show that the other driver violated the state’s Vehicle Code. The simplest way to do this is to obtain the police report, which will likely state which driver was in violation of the vehicle code. If the driver that rear-ended you violated the vehicle code, they are presumed negligent, or “negligent per se,” which means the burden of proof falls to them to establish that they were not negligent.

What Happens If I Was Partially At Fault For A Rear-End Crash?

California's "pure comparative negligence" rule means that you may still receive compensation even if you were partly at fault. Your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. For example, let’s say you were found to be 10% at fault for a rear-end collision that resulted in $100,000 in hospital bills. Under California’s comparative negligence law, you would only receive $90,000 in damages.

In these claims where liability is unclear, it is highly recommended that you speak with an attorney to ensure you are compensated fully and fairly. An experienced car crash lawyer will conduct a full investigation, gather the necessary evidence to prove liability and ensure your legal rights are vindicated.

Do You Need A Lawyer For A Rear-End Accident?

Most of the time, rear-end collisions do not require an attorney. However, suppose you were hospitalized with significant injuries. In that case, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney to ensure you receive the compensation you need for your treatment and other expenses.

California Rear-End Collision Lawyer – Free Case Evaluation

Navigating the complexities of proving liability in a rear-end collision can be daunting. The good news is you have nothing to lose by consulting with a lawyer who handles California auto accident claims. Most car accident lawyers offer free case evaluations and represent you on a contingency fee basis, which means you do not pay unless the attorney successfully obtains compensation on your behalf.

Hiring an attorney frees you of the overwhelming responsibilities that come after an accident, like systematically collecting evidence, haggling with insurance companies, and proving liability. If you are injured in a car wreck, your attention should be on healing rather than stressing about financial compensation.

To get started on your rear-end accident claim, call today at 855-948-5098.



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