Understand who’s liable in a rear-end accident and how to maximize your compensation
In a city like Atlanta, where the pace of life is fast and the roads are often crowded, rear-end collisions are not just a possibility but a frequent reality for many drivers. While many people assume that the rear driver is always at fault in these accidents, there are many situations where the opposite may be true.
If you or a loved one was injured in a rear-end accident in Georgia, it’s crucial to understand how fault is determined in these cases and the factors that influence the compensation you might receive.
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How common are car crash injuries and fatalities in Georgia?
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, in 2020, motor vehicle crashes were the second leading cause of serious injuries and deaths in Georgia and the leading cause of death among children ages 5 to 14.
In the same year, Georgia recorded the fourth-highest number of traffic fatalities in the entire U.S., with 1,664 deaths. This is especially notable considering Georgia is only the eighth most populous state.
So, just how dangerous are rear-end collisions?
While many people don’t necessarily associate rear-end accidents with catastrophic injuries or fatalities, the reality is that these accidents can be quite dangerous and even deadly. In 2021, the National Safety Council reported that rear-end collisions were responsible for about 18% of all vehicle-related fatalities that year.
Who typically gets hurt worse in a rear-end collision?
In a rear-end collision, the occupants of the front vehicle often face a higher risk of injury compared to those in the rear vehicle, especially if they’re rear-ended while stopped. This is primarily due to the sudden and unexpected nature of the impact on the front vehicle’s occupants.
Common injuries in these scenarios include whiplash (caused by the rapid back-and-forth movement of the head and neck), back injuries and head injuries, especially if the impact causes them to hit the steering wheel or dashboard.
The severity of injuries can depend on various factors, including the speed at which the rear vehicle was traveling, the size and weight difference between the vehicles, the position of the occupants at the time of the collision, and whether seat belts were in use.
In the news: Georgia jury awards 1.2 million in rear-end crash case
In June 2023, a jury awarded James Matthew Watson, a Georgia attorney who was rear-ended in 2016, $1.2 in compensation for his injuries. During the trial, which focused on the severity of Watson’s injuries and their connection to the accident, Watson’s legal team argued that the crash led to a series of health issues requiring more than 40 procedures, which drastically changed his lifestyle.
The defense contended that Watson’s injuries were mainly due to pre-existing conditions, not the rear-end collision, but the jury ultimately sided with the plaintiff.
What is the number one cause of rear-end collisions?
The number one cause of rear-end collisions is typically driver distraction. In fact, one study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that as many as 87% of rear-end accidents involved a distracted driver.
Distractions can come in many forms, such as using a cell phone, eating, adjusting the radio, talking to another passenger or anything else that takes the driver’s attention away from the road. When a driver is distracted, they may not notice that traffic has slowed or stopped ahead of them, leading to a rear-end collision.
Other contributing factors can include:
- Tailgating (not leaving enough space between vehicles)
The reality is that the vast majority of rear-end accidents are avoidable. By minimizing distractions and being mindful of these other contributing factors, drivers can significantly reduce the risk of these common and often preventable accidents.
Who is usually at fault in a rear-end collision?
In most cases, the trailing driver who hits the car in front of them is usually found at fault in a rear-end collision. This is based on the general traffic rule that drivers are expected to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of them.
So, typically, it’s the trailing driver’s responsibility to be attentive and allow enough space to stop safely to avoid a collision, regardless of whether the leading vehicle brakes suddenly or unexpectedly.
When might the rear driver not be at fault in a rear-end accident?
While relatively rare, there are some instances where the leading driver might be partially or fully at fault for a rear-end accident, including:
- Brake-checks. When the front driver purposely stops abruptly in an attempt to scare the rear driver or cause an accident (known as a brake-check accident)
- Reverse maneuvers. When the front vehicle unexpectedly goes into reverse
- Faulty brake lights. When the front vehicle’s brake lights are not functioning, giving no indication to the rear driver that the vehicle is slowing down or stopping
- Secondary accidents. When the rear vehicle is pushed into the front vehicle due to being hit from behind by another car
- Cutting off. When the front vehicle cuts in front of the rear vehicle too closely, leaving insufficient time or space for the rear vehicle to react and slow down
- Erratic driving. When the front driver is operating their vehicle erratically or unpredictably, making a collision unavoidable
- Mechanical failure. When the rear driver experiences an unforeseeable mechanical failure, such as brake failure, that directly leads to the collision
In these cases, the rear driver might either not be at fault or share less of the blame. However, determining fault can be complex, and it often requires thorough investigation and sometimes legal proceedings to resolve.
Can you tell how fast a car was going by the damage?
Determining the exact speed of a vehicle at the time of a collision based solely on the resulting damage can be challenging and is not an exact science. However, accident reconstruction experts often use the extent and nature of the damage as one of several clues to estimate a vehicle’s speed.
Factors such as the type of vehicles involved, the nature of the collision (e.g., head-on, rear-end, side-impact), the deformation of the vehicles, skid marks, and the final resting positions of the vehicles can all provide insights. Modern vehicles equipped with event data recorders (EDRs) or “black boxes” can offer more precise information about the vehicle’s speed, brake application and other factors at the time of the crash.
For accurate assessments, it’s often necessary to involve professionals in accident reconstruction and consider all available evidence, including eyewitness testimonies, road conditions and any available video footage.
How is fault determined in a car accident in Georgia?
Georgia uses a legal doctrine called modified comparative negligence to assign fault in an accident. Under this doctrine, the plaintiff (injured party) and defendant are assigned a percentage of fault for an accident, and the plaintiff’s final compensation is reduced according to their percentage of fault.
In Georgia, the plaintiff must be less than 50% at fault to recover any compensation.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you were involved in a car accident with another driver in which you were speeding 10 mph over the limit, and the other driver (the defendant) changed lanes without signaling, leading to a rear-end collision that left you injured.
The court later determines that your speeding contributed to the accident, but the primary cause was the other driver’s failure to signal, assigning you 30% of the fault and the other driver 70%.
Under Georgia’s modified comparative negligence rule, if your total damages, including medical bills and lost wages, amount to $100,000, your compensation would be reduced by your percentage of fault. Since you were found to be 30% at fault, your compensation would be reduced by 30% of $100,000, which is $30,000. Therefore, you would be awarded $70,000 instead of the full $100,000.
Remember, if you had been found 50% or more at fault, you wouldn’t be able to recover any compensation under Georgia law.
What is the average payout for a rear-end collision in Georgia?
The average payout for a rear-end collision in Georgia can vary widely and depends on several factors, such as the severity of the collision, the extent of injuries and property damage, medical expenses incurred, lost wages, and the impact on the victim’s quality of life.
Generally speaking, settlements for rear-end collisions involving minor injuries (like whiplash, minor bruises, or small cuts) might range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. These cases typically include medical expenses, minor car repair costs, and possibly a small amount for pain and suffering.
In cases of serious injuries, such as spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries like brain bleeds, the settlement can be considerably higher, ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. These settlements account for substantial medical bills, ongoing treatment costs, lost wages, possibly lost future earning capacity, and more significant compensation for pain and suffering.
In the tragic event of a fatality, the compensation can go even higher, often into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. These cases involve wrongful death claims and can include medical expenses incurred before death, funeral and burial costs, loss of the deceased’s future income, loss of companionship, and other damages.
However, it’s important to note that there is no standard or average payout, as each case is unique. To get an accurate estimate of the potential payout for a specific rear-end collision case in Georgia, you should consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in these types of cases.
Get help from an experienced Atlanta injury attorney
Navigating the aftermath of a rear-end collision can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with injuries and the complexities of legal and insurance processes. At Gerber & Holder, our experienced Atlanta injury attorneys understand the intricacies of Georgia’s traffic laws and how they apply to rear-end collisions. Let us handle the legal burdens while you focus on your recovery.
Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your right to compensation after a rear-end accident.
Analyses of Rear-End Crashes and Near-Crashes in the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study to Support Rear-Signaling Countermeasure Development. (2007a). https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/analyses20of20rear-end20crashes20and20near-crashes20dot20hs2081020846.pdf
Motor vehicle – type of crash. Injury Facts. (2023, April 18). https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/motor-vehicle/overview/type-of-crash/
Motor vehicle crashes. Georgia Department of Public Health. (n.d.). https://dph.georgia.gov/health-topics/injury-prevention-program/cdc-core/motor-vehicle-crashes