Who s at Fault in a Rear-End Collision in California?

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Car accidents happen all across California every day in many different ways for various reasons. Some of the most frequently reported car accidents are rear-end collisions, when one driver hits another vehicle from behind. When rear-end collisions occur, it is typically assumed that the trailing driver is responsible for the incident. This is because drivers have a duty of care to avoid hitting other vehicles in front of them. However, the actual process of determining liability for a rear-end collision can be complicated in some cases.

While the trailing driver is typically responsible for a rear-end collision and bears liability for the resulting damages, there are some situations in which the leading driver shares fault for a rear-end collision. If you or a loved one was recently involved in a rear-end collision as either the trailing or leading driver, it’s essential to know how to accurately determine liability for the incident and who is liable for the resulting damages.

Who is at fault in a rear end collision?

Determining Fault for a Rear-End Collision

Most rear-end collisions occur because of the negligence of the trailing driver. They may be following the leading driver too closely or not paying full attention to their surroundings. If the driver in front of them needs to slow down or stop, they may not react in time to avoid hitting the leading driver. If a rear-end collision occurs because the trailing driver was negligent in any way, the trailing driver will likely absorb full liability for the leading driver’s damages. However, there are various possible scenarios in which a leading driver also bears fault for a rear-end collision:

  • If the leading driver has broken or malfunctioning brake lights, the trailing driver may be unable to tell when they are braking. Drivers must address known mechanical issues with their vehicles as soon as they are discovered.
  • If the leading driver “brake checks” the trailing driver, they may face at least partial liability for the accident. “Brake checking” typically refers to braking at inappropriate times to startle a trailing driver or discourage them from following too closely. Some drivers use this tactic when a trailing driver is tailgating them.
  • A leading driver may bear fault for a rear-end collision if they suddenly change lanes in front of another driver without signaling.
  • Rear-end collisions may occur when leading drivers do not yield the right of way to others where appropriate.

Ultimately, you should not assume that you are entirely at fault for the damages resulting from a rear-end collision just because you hit another driver from behind. Similarly, you should not assume that the driver behind you is entirely at fault for rear-end collision damages if you may have done something to incur partial liability.

How Does Partial Fault Work in California?

California enforces a pure comparative negligence standard for vehicle accident claims and most personal injury claims. Under the law of pure comparative negligence, a plaintiff still has the right to claim compensation for damages even if they are partially responsible for causing them. However, the plaintiff will lose a percentage of their case award equal to their fault percentage to reflect their partial liability. Some states that enforce modified comparative negligence will bar plaintiff recovery at 50% fault, but California does not enforce such limits. It is possible, however unlikely, that a plaintiff found 99% would still be able to recover 1% of their claimed damages.

Rear-end collision disputes in California commonly raise the question of comparative negligence. While the trailing driver is likely to absorb a more significant share of fault for a rear-end collision than the leading driver, the leading driver can bear a substantial amount of fault, reducing the trailing driver’s overall financial liability. If you are unsure whether you face partial liability for a recent rear-end collision or if you have other legal questions pertaining to your recent accident, it’s vital to consult an attorney as soon as possible.


Q: Is It Always My Fault If I Rear-End Someone? A: If you hit another driver from behind, you will incur some amount of fault for the resulting damages. However, the incident may not be entirely your fault, depending on the actions of another driver. An experienced personal injury attorney is the best resource to consult if you are concerned about the potential fault you bear for a recent rear-end collision. Q: How Do You Prove Fault for a Rear-End Collision? A: You may need various forms of evidence to establish liability for a rear-end collision. Your attorney can help you secure traffic camera data, vehicle computer data, and statements from eyewitnesses who saw the incident occur. In addition, your attorney can advise you as to the specific types of evidence most likely to come into play in your case. Q: Does the Insurance Company Decide Fault for a Rear-End Collision? A: If you need to file an insurance claim after another driver hit you from behind, you should be prepared to prove the other driver rear-ended your vehicle and you did not contribute to causing the accident. Insurance companies are required to investigate claims, and the insurer will want to see clear proof that the claim is valid before disbursing any compensation. Q: How Long Does it Take to Settle a Rear-End Collision Dispute? A: If you need to take legal action in response to a recent rear-end collision, it’s natural to wonder how long your case will take to unfold. If the other party’s fault is readily apparent, it may only take a few weeks to a month or two to resolve. However, more complex accident claims can take several months or longer to complete. The Kreeger Law Firm can provide the detail-oriented and responsive legal counsel you need after a rear-end collision in California. If you are unsure how to prove liability for your damages or if you have concerns about comparative negligence coming into play in your case, a Sacramento car accident attorney can help you address these issues. Contact us today to schedule your consultation with the Kreeger Law Firm.