Often referred to as “whiplash crashes,” rear end collisions tend to be (incorrectly) regarded as minor accidents. However, this type of accident is capable of producing serious, life-altering injuries or worse.
If you were in a rear end collision that someone else’s careless or reckless behavior caused, you can seek compensation for your injuries through a car accident lawsuit. Read on for more information about this type of crash and the legal process involved in obtaining compensation.
How Are Rear End Collisions Caused?
The most common way for a rear end collision to occur is if the driver of one vehicle is following another vehicle too closely. If the lead vehicle suddenly slows or stops, the driver of the following vehicle may not realize in time to stop or can’t stop without striking the vehicle.
Other common causes of rear end collisions include:
- Distracted driving, in which the driver of the following vehicle focuses on something else and fails to realize that a vehicle in front of it has stopped. There are three types of distractions that can result in a distracted driving accident, including manual distractions, which cause the driver to take his or her hands from the wheel; visual distractions, which draw the drivers eyes from watching the roadway; and cognitive distractions, which take the driver’s mind off of the task of driving safely. Texting is a particularly dangerous distraction, as it is a manual distraction, a visual distraction, and a cognitive distraction all at the same time.
- Speeding, which makes it difficult for other drivers to safely judge the gap in traffic before pulling out, and also increases the amount of distance needed for the car to come to a safe stop after the driver has perceived danger and has responded by braking.
- Inclement weather, which can make road surfaces slick and make it hard to stop if the driver in the lead vehicle suddenly brakes. Both speed and wet or slippery road surfaces increase the distance that the vehicle needs to make a safe stop.
- Vehicle defects: Drivers have a responsibility to properly maintain their vehicles in good, working conditions. One of the most common maintenance issues to occur on a vehicle involves the brakes. Failing to maintain your vehicle's brakes can cause the brakes to fail and lead to a rear end accident. Additionally, the manufacturers and distributors of vehicle brake parts must ensure that the brakes will work properly when used as labeled. If your brakes failed because of defective auto parts, the manufacturer and distributor of that part can be found liable.
- Driver error, which causes many accidents, including rear end collisions. Common examples of a driver error that could lead to a rear end accident include the driver’s foot slipping off the brake pedal onto the gas.
The Injuries Caused by Rear End Collisions
The most commonly discussed injury to arise from a rear-end collision is whiplash. Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs when the force of the collision causes the head to rock violently back and forth on the neck in a motion that resembles the lashing of a whip. The injury is most commonly the result of rear end accidents, as the force of the collision causes the driver of the lead vehicle’s head to snap forward and then rapidly snap backward.
Whiplash symptoms commonly include neck pain and stiffness; headaches, generally starting at the base of the skull; tenderness in the upper back, shoulder, or arms; tingling or numbness in the arms; dizziness; and fatigue.
Other injuries that can be caused by a rear end collision include:
- Back and spinal cord injuries, including slipped vertebrae, ruptured discs, or even spinal cord injuries. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that extend down the back from the base of the skull to the waist. The bony vertebrae of the spine protect it. Injuries to the spinal cord often result in a loss of sensation and function below the site where the injury occurred, which is known as paralysis. Paralysis is permanent, most of the time.
- Traumatic brain injuries, which are more likely to occur if one of the drivers is not wearing his or her seat belt and is thrown into the windshield due to the force of the collision. Traumatic brain injuries, like spinal cord injuries, often result in permanent disability. The brain is responsible for all the body’s functions and involuntary responses. It is made up of several segments, known as lobes, that are responsible for controlling specific functions. The disabilities acquired from the injury depend not only on the severity of the injury, but also the part of the brain that was injured. Common deficits created by a traumatic brain injury include loss of memory, inability to control one’s behavior or emotions, difficulty balancing or moving, or difficulty speaking or understanding spoken language.
- Arm and wrist injuries created from the driver having his or her hands on the steering wheel at the time of the collision. If the driver has even a half-second to respond to the hazard before the accident occurs, he or she will likely brace him- or herself against the steering wheel, increasing the risk of this type of injury.
- Broken bones, particularly the ribcage, which can fracture due to the force of the airbag or seatbelt against the body during the collision.
- Facial injuries that can result if the occupants of either car make contact with the steering wheel, windshield, or even the back of the front seat for back seat passengers. These injuries often include lacerations, bruises, fractures to facial bones, or damage to the teeth or jaw.
Obtaining Compensation After Your Rear End Collision
If you are injured in a rear end collision that was caused by another driver, you can obtain compensation through a car accident lawsuit. This is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove who was liable (legally responsible) for the accident as well as to show the expenses and the impacts that you have experienced because of your injury.
Time Limits for Filing Your Claim
Each state has a statutory deadline for car accident claims. This is the time limit by when you must have your lawsuit paperwork filed with the court. In most cases, Wisconsin claimants have three years to file a car accident lawsuit, beginning on the date when the rear end crash occurred. Minnesota requires you to file car accident lawsuits within six years of the date of the injury in most cases. An experienced rear end car accident attorney can help you understand if there is a different time limit for your case.
Contrary to popular belief, the driver of the following car is not always at fault in a rear end crash.
There are times when the driver of the lead car is at fault, such as:
Liability in a rear end collision does not always fall on either the driver of the lead car or the driver of the following car.
Sometimes, someone else’s actions can be to blame, such as:
- The lead car was moving in reverse at the time of the accident.
- The lead car’s brake lights weren’t working at the time of the accident.
- The driver of the lead car was intentionally trying to get hit.
- The driver of the lead car pulled into a travel lane without ensuring that the gap in traffic was sufficient to do so.
Many times, the errors of more than one individual cause an accident. It is not uncommon to name two or more unrelated parties in a car accident claim.
- The accident resulted from a defect in the design, manufacture, or packaging of the lights or the brakes. Plaintiffs can sue manufacturers and distributors who sell products for consumer use, such as vehicle parts, if those parts malfunction and result in an injury.
- A pedestrian or bicyclist who failed to yield the right-of-way, causing the lead car to slam on its brakes and the following car to rear end the lead car.
- Another driver, who rear ends one car that is pushed by the force of the collision into the car in front of it.
In the legal arena, the word “damages” means a payment made in compensation for harm. Economic damages, then, pay for the expenses of your injury.
Common expenses included in an economic damage claim are:
Non-economic damages pay for the negative impacts your injury has on your quality of life.
Some examples of the type of impacts that give rise to a non-economic damage recovery include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Repair or replacement of your damaged vehicle.
If someone rear-ended you, or if someone’s negligent driving caused you to rear-end them, and you suffered injuries, ask a car accident lawyer if your circumstances warrant a claim for damages.
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of the enjoyment of life