According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a third of all police reported accidents are rear-end collisions. A rear-end collision is a type of automobile accident wherein one car is struck from behind by the car following behind it. They typically occur because a driver is following too closely, going too fast, not paying attention or is distracted. Over the past decade, we have noticed an increase in the number of accidents resulting from a distracted driver texting while driving. Texting while driving is illegal in Colorado, but it still happens, and contributes to many rear-end collisions. These collisions, even when they occur at low speeds, can cause serious injuries. Although automobile liability insurance is supposed to compensate the injured party for the physical and financial implications of such an accident, it can be difficult to compel the insurance company to make a fair and timely payment. Overcoming this difficulty is the primary work of a car accident lawyer.
In most cases, determining fault in rear-end collisions is pretty straightforward. In Colorado, the driver in the rear is presumed to be negligent, and thus liable for the damage caused. This presumption, however, can be rebutted by evidence showing that the driver in front was instead negligent in some manner. In some cases, both drivers may have been partially at fault for the accident, and the principles of comparative fault may apply. Check out our previous blog post for a more in depth discussion about comparative fault. For example, in a recent Colorado case, a driver who slowed down for a group of bighorn sheep on I-70 was found partially at fault when she was subsequently struck from behind by another driver. The court held that under those circumstances, a jury could find that she had a duty to pull to the side of the road, rather than simply slow down and stay in her lane.
Many different forms of evidence may be considered when proving liability in a rear-end collision. A jury may examine whether any parties violated traffic rules, the road and weather conditions at the time of the accident, or whether some intervening circumstance applied, i.e. bighorn sheep. Although it can seem simple on the surface, proving which party is at fault in rear-end collisions can be very difficult at times and may require the assistance of a lawyer.
In addition to proving the liability of the at-fault driver, the injured party must also demonstrate that their injuries were severe enough to warrant compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This is not as easy as it sounds. In rear-end collisions, the damage to each vehicle is often minimal. Insurance companies often equate minimal damage with minimal bodily injuries, and are thus less inclined to settle insurance claims quickly and fairly. Unfortunately, the injuries sustained in a rear-end collision can be quite severe and often result in expensive medical bills and months of physical therapy.
It’s a common misconception that only high speed, serious collisions result in whiplash-type injuries. In actuality, whiplash is commonly caused by low speed, low impact, rear-end automobile collisions. When a car is struck from behind, it accelerates forward, forcing the driver’s seat forward as well. As the car seat accelerates forward, it pushes the driver’s torso forward, but the driver’s head remains still for a moment. As the torso continues to move forward, the driver’s head rotates and extends rapidly backwards, hyperextending the neck. As the head goes backwards, the car seat and torso continue to move forward. The neck and head then “whip” forward, hyperextending the neck forwards. Also referred to as hypertextension and hyperflexion, the sudden snapping of the driver’s neck, shoulders, and spine is like the motion of a whip as it snaps, hence the term whiplash. The abrupt wrenching of the cervical spine commonly causes headaches, neck pain, dizziness, memory problems, lower back pain, blurred vision, or even traumatic brain injury. In addition, the force of the impact can cause the driver’s arms, wrists, and hands, to jerk violently into the dashboard, instrument cluster or steering wheel, causing further injury.
The severity of the whiplash injuries relate to a range of factors beyond just the force of impact, and include the position of the driver or passenger’s head at the time of impact; the person’s seating position, height, and gender; the position of seat and head restraints; and the relative size and weight of the vehicles involved in the accident. Because these types of injuries are generally soft tissue injuries, many people believe that whiplash is minor and not a serious injury. However, medical evidence suggests that soft tissue injuries can be serious and can have long-term effects if left untreated. This is why it’s important to be checked out by a doctor if you have been involved in any type of car accident
If you were seriously injured in a rear-end collision, you will face expensive medical bills, loss of work and income, and pain and suffering during your recovery. Because of the complexity of the legal issues involved, rear-end collisions may require professional intervention in order to fully resolve certain issues. You may wish to contact a qualified personal injury attorney in your area if you have any legal questions or disputes regarding rear-end collisions. Your lawyer can help examine your case to determine the appropriate damages award for you.