Rear-Ended: Exceptions To Automatic Fault In Rear-End Collisions

If you have recently hit another vehicle from behind, you may be concerned about your liability. In many states, the driver from behind is automatically at fault or partially responsible. Driving rules require that you stay a safe distance behind another vehicle. However, it doesn't always mean you are at fault. Here are some exceptions to automatic fault in rear-end collisions.


Negligence in a vehicle accident means a driver's actions do not match what a reasonable person would do in the same situation. The driver in front can be negligent in many ways. Did they fail to fix faulty breaks or tail lights or neglect to pull over if they malfunctioned? Did they suddenly reverse? Did they fail to complete a turn after giving a signal?  

Negligence is grouped into two categories: comparative and contributory. Contributory negligence states that if you can give proof the driver in front was negligent in any way, they cannot sue you.  Only Washington D.C., Alabama, North Carolina, and Maryland apply contributory negligence.

Comparative negligence divides damages among drivers. Comparative fault is further divided into two sub-categories: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. Pure comparative negligence assigns a fault percentage to each driver. For example, if the accident caused $10,000 in damages and you are assigned 20% pay $2,000.

Modified comparative fault sets a cap on the fault percentage. This is commonly set at 50% meaning a driver cannot seek damages if they are assigned 50% fault. 21 states apply a 51% Bar Rule meaning the rear-ended drive cannot recover damages if his or her fault for the accident was 51% or greater.

Multiple Vehicles 

The multiple vehicle accident rule can apply in some cases. You won't be at fault if another vehicle pushed you into the driver in front. An example is when an oncoming vehicle fails to stop a red light and two vehicles are stopped. The driver who failed to stop would be at fault. However, you still could be partially responsible under comparative negligence rules for having faulty tail lights or faulty brakes, if they contributed to the accident.

The No-Fault Rule

Twelve states carry the no-fault exception. Drivers must have their own insurance in these states. Instead of flooding the courts with lawsuits, drivers must get compensated by their own insurance providers. Some states allow drivers to sue responsible parties for pain and suffering up to a certain amount. In at-fault states, unless the one who hit the driver in front can prove otherwise, they are automatically at fault.

If you weren't in violation of road rules, you could prove your lack of liability with the exceptions for rear-end collision. However, car accident laws are complex so you may want to consider seeking out the services of an accident lawyer to help you.