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Can I Be Held Liable if My Car Is Rear-Ended in California?

Steven R. Andrade Nov. 19, 2016

You probably have heard at some point that in a rear-end car accident, the driver of the rear car is always at fault. Well, there is no such thing as “always” when it comes to legal matters.

If you've been in a rear-end car accident in Santa Barbara that has left you injured or with extensive damage to your vehicle, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at Andrade Law Offices as soon as possible. Attorney Steven R. Andrade has decades of experience handling accident cases in Santa Barbara and throughout Southern California. Even if you were rear-ended, you could be found to be at fault and be held liable if you do not have proper legal representation.

Establishing Fault for Rear-End Accidents

It follows logically that, in most cases, a driver who hits another car from behind is at fault. Even if the lead car did stop unexpectedly, the driver behind has a responsibility to follow at a safe speed and allow enough space to avoid a collision.

Drivers share a duty to exercise a reasonable amount of care when driving. This requires that you drive at a reasonable speed and allow time and space to stop before striking the vehicle ahead if it slows or stops. Drivers should take into account not only the speed limit but road conditions and traffic condition, particularly here in Southern California. As a driver, you have to remain alert as to what other cars are doing.

Not taking such care is carelessness and constitutes negligence in the eyes of the law. Negligent drivers are held liable for the damage and injuries they cause in accidents. In rear-ended car accidents, the most common kind of car accident, the driver in back gets the first look for who should be held liable.

But we have seen enough car accidents in 25-plus years of practice in Santa Barbara to know that anything can happen on the highway, and not all rear-end accidents are the fault of the driver behind.

For example, if a driver comes to an unexpected stop or parks in an active traffic lane and is then hit from behind, there may be valid questions about whether the driver's decision to stop in an active traffic lane contributed to the accident.

If a driver who has been drinking somehow puts his or her car into reverse at a stoplight and then backs into another vehicle when the light turns green, the accident scene looks like a rear-end collision. However, should the driver behind be held liable?

Examining the vehicles as part of the investigation, which we would do if we took the rear driver's case, might show that the lead car's transmission was in reverse.

As we know from having handled many accident cases, every case has a unique set of facts and anything can happen. That is why anytime you are in a significant car accident involving injuries, you should have a knowledgeable accident attorney review the specific contributing factors to the accident and explain your legal options.

Comparative Negligence in California Car Accidents

A common scenario for a car accident in which the driver of the lead car has liability is a situation in which the lead car's brake lights were not working, and the driver behind had no warning the car ahead was braking. In a multi-car accident, a third car may have hit the rear car and forced it into the rear of the car ahead.

California law makes room for the possibility that more than one driver may have responsibility for an accident. California personal injury law follows the legal standard of pure comparative negligence to assess. This requires a jury or judge considering an accident claim to consider each driver's role in the accident.

If a driver is found to have contributed to the accident, the amount of their claim will be reduced accordingly. Therefore, even if the driver behind failed to stop, an investigation might show that, for example, the lead driver only had one working taillight or stalled in the road but failed to turn on their hazard lights. A jury might hold the lead driver partially liable, which would reduce the compensation they received.

If an investigation showed the lead driver was totally at fault, a jury might be persuaded to find in favor of the driver in the rear.

If you have been in a rear-end accident in the Santa Barbara area, regardless of which car you were in, contact Andrade Law Offices to discuss your legal options in a free initial consultation.