Rear-end car accidents happen fast.

If you’re the driver in front, you have no warning. If you’re the driver in back, you probably had no time to react.

Whichever car you’re in, you’re no doubt the accident unsettled you. What’s worse, you could suffer from whiplash, soft-tissue damage, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or other slow-to-manifest injury and not yet know it.

As the dust settles and you start dealing with your injuries and the other consequences of your rear-end collision, one question you’ll have to settle is who caused your accident. But rear-end car accidents are rarely as straightforward as they seem.

Reach out to a car accident lawyer, if you or loved one have been injured in rear-end car accident, for legal support and guidance.

Your QuickStart Guide: Rear-End Car Accident Fast Facts

  • Rear-end auto accidents happen when one car hits the back of another, often at a stop sign or while parking. Rear-end car accidents involving multiple vehicles in high-speed, high-damage chain-reaction collisions can happen on busy streets and freeways, particularly when roads are slick or icy. 
  • Rear-end collisions can cause surprisingly severe damage to the involved cars, including damage to the rear bumper, trunk, and rear side panels.
  • People tend to assume the driver who rear-ended the vehicle in front of them caused the crash, but that’s not always true. Many factors influence these accidents, sometimes including errors made by the driver in the lead car.

What Causes Rear-End Car Accidents?

Figuring out why a rear-end car accident happened is the first step in determining liability.

Who Is At Fault For a Rear-End Accident

Here are a few common causes of rear-end car accidents: 

  • Insufficient road information. Inadequate road markings or signs can fail to alert drivers to environmental conditions or traffic patterns. 
  • Sudden braking. When one vehicle stops unexpectedly, the car behind may not have enough time to stop. 
  • Driver inattention. Distracted driving can also cause a rear-end collision. If one of the involved drivers was texting, adjusting the radio, eating, or otherwise not paying attention to the road, they may be at fault in the accident. 
  • Weather. A litany of poor weather conditions, including heavy rain, snow, fog, and ice, can reduce visibility or mean drivers need extra room for braking.

What About Tailgating?

Tailgating, or intentionally following another car too closely, causes many rear-end collisions. 

Some drivers tailgate because they’re impatient or angry. Others underestimate the distance between themselves and the car ahead of them. Some people believe tailgating is an acceptable way of letting the car ahead of them know they’re going too slow. 

Tailgating is not a good communication method: Tailgating is dangerous.

The National Safety Council reported that rear-end collisions constituted over 40 percent of the 11 million auto accidents in the United States in one recent year. Tailgating contributes to rear-end collisions, and it doesn’t make people move any faster.

Washington Rear-End Accident Laws

Washington’s traffic laws don’t make the driver of the rear car always at fault in a rear-end collision, but they put a lot of the responsibility for avoiding these accidents on their shoulders. For example, RCW 46.61.145  states that drivers should stay a prudent distance behind the car ahead of them and be mindful of current environmental and road conditions. 

Because state law leaves open the question of fault, every rear-end car accident should be evaluated individually. 

What Does Fault Look Like in a Rear-End Collision?

Investigators can’t assume the driver who rear-ended the car ahead of them is at fault.

Sometimes the facts of a case show implicate the driver of the rear car and sometimes they don’t:

  • Scenario 1: Sarah is on the freeway when she sees that traffic ahead is almost at a standstill. She slows down. Tom, close behind her, slams into her rear. Through interviews, skid-mark analysis, and other methods, investigators determined that Tom, in a hurry that day, had followed Sarah’s car too closely. They find Tom at fault in the accident. 
  • Scenario 2: John is following Anna at a safe distance on a city road when he sees her brake lights come on. He hits his own brakes, but it’s too late and he rear-ends her car. An investigation that includes a review of Anna’s phone records finds she was using her cell phone at the time of the accident. Since Washington prohibits using a phone while driving, investigators blame Anna. 

Remember: Every case is different. Investigators will determine who’s at fault in your accident based on the evidence. 

Your lawyer will also review the evidence, listen carefully to your account of the accident, and consult experts to make their own determination. They’ll use what they find to make a strong case for the compensation you’re entitled to.

What Do Professional Investigators Look for in Rear-End Car Accidents?

When professional investigators examine rear-end accidents, they scrutinize: 

  • The accident scene. Are there skid marks? If so, what do they say about when the rear driver started to brake? Are there signs to alert drivers to stops, cross-traffic, and other obstacles? Was there debris or other items on the road that might have confused the drivers?
  • Damage to the involved vehicles. Something as small as the direction of a dent can indicate impact, speed, and more. 
  • Relevant evidence. Can they recover CCTV footage? Cell phone records? Photographs taken at the scene? 
  • Witness testimonies. What do people who witnessed the accident recall from the moments leading up to it? Did the drivers involved seem attentive and cautious, or distracted, erratic, impatient, or angry?
  • What the environment was like. Was the road in good condition at the time of the accident, or icy or slick? How was the visibility? What time of day was it? Did glare impede either driver?

After gathering this information, a professional investigator will make an informed decision about fault in your accident. You and your lawyer can either accept this determination or challenge it and make the case that the other driver was at fault.

How Can You Prove the Other Driver Was At Fault?

To qualify for the maximum compensation in your case, you’ll need to demonstrate that the other driver causes it — not you. 

The way you’ll do this will depend on whether… 

…The other car rear-ended you

If the other car rear-ended you, you’ll need to show that you drove safely and legally while the other driver either failed to brake in time – perhaps because of a distraction – or followed you too closely. Pursue evidence such as accident scene photographs, witness testimonies, and the police report. 

…You rear-ended the other car

To prove that the driver in front of you was at fault, you must demonstrate that their negligence caused the accident. 

Evidence to concentrate on could include dashcam footage showing the other driver braking suddenly without reason or testimony from a mechanic confirming that their brake lights were not functioning.

Ultimately, proving negligence means proving that the other party did not exercise reasonable care.

The components of reasonable care include:

  • Duty. By law, the driver of the other car owed you a duty of reasonable care;
  • Breach. The other driver breached the duty to exercise reasonable care;
  • Causation. The other driver’s breach of duty caused injury and damage leading to pain and suffering; and
  • Damages. Your injuries from the accident have come with financial expenses the at-fault driver should cover. These may include medical and physical therapy bills, lost wages, child or pet care during your recovery, and property losses or damage.

Addressing these factors thoroughly and persuasively can be difficult – especially when you’re recovering from your injuries and dealing with the accident’s stressful aftermath.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. 

How a Washington State Rear-End Collision Attorney Can Help You

An experienced Washington rear-end car accident attorney can help you pursue fair compensation in many ways.

For example, they can: 

  • Provide specific-to-you legal advice
  • Guide you through the complex insurance claim process
  • Gather and analyze pertinent evidence
  • Negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company
  • Represent you in court, if necessary 

Building a strong case to show that the other driver in your rear-end car accident was at fault requires knowledge of local, state, and federal laws, insurance industry practices, and the physics and mechanics of car accidents.

You’ll face insurance company agents and lawyers, people whose sole purpose is to pay you as little as possible. Taking care of all of this at a time when you’re not even close to feeling your best is too much.

The solution? Retain a lawyer with a track record of getting their clients everything they’re owed after a rear-end collision.

Why Does it Matter Who Was At Fault in Your Rear-End Car Accident?


  • Influences the entire insurance claim process
  • Affects the potential compensation amount
  • Helps you ensure that justice is served!

On the most practical level, showing that the other driver was at fault makes their insurance company responsible for your accident-related bills – not you.

Rear-End Car Accident Bills Are Expensive

Rear-enders may be relatively common accidents, but they aren’t cheap.

For example: 

  • Victims of rear-end car accidents can face steep medical bills for treating their whiplash, concussions, or other injuries. 
  • Rear-end collisions can produce high repair costs.
  • If the accident leads to unexpected time away from work, you might have to manage without your usual income.
  • If the insurance company unfairly blames you, you may need to pay the other driver’s medical expenses, repair costs, and lost income, in addition to your own. (Your insurance premiums will likely increase, too.) 

The types of vehicles involved in your rear-end accident may also influence the compensation available to you. Typically, collisions involving similarly-sized vehicles cause less damage than those involving, say, a pickup truck and a small car. (Or a tractor-trailer hitting a Portland school bus.) 

Accidents involving vehicles pulling trailers or equipped with trailer hitches can create exceptional damage – and lead to exceptionally steep repair costs. 

A Case of Unexpected Costs: Here’s What Recovering from Whiplash Looks Like

If you or a loved one has just experienced a rear-end car accident, some people will try to downplay what you’ve gone through. Sometimes, rear-end collisions aren’t that serious. Sometimes, they are

Take whiplash, for example – a common injury in rear-end car accidents:  

Rick Park, Attorney for Car Accident in Washington
Rick Park, Car Accident Lawyer in Washington
  • Whiplash occurs when the force of a collision causes the victim’s neck to snap rapidly back and forth, straining or even tearing neck muscles and tendons. 
  • These injuries usually lead to stiffness, pain, headaches, and dizziness. Symptoms tend to begin between 12 hours and three days after the accident.
  • Once you receive a diagnosis and start treatment, you may need to invest in anything from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription medications or even physical therapy. Doctor visits, tests and imaging, medications, and treatment can each come with a hefty price tag. For instance, physical therapy in Washington state can cost as much as $20-$50 per fifteen-minute increment. To be effective, physical therapy for whiplash often requires several visits.
  • Recovering from whiplash also requires limiting physical activity and getting a lot of rest. For many people, this means taking time off from work, lost wages, and missed career goals. At home, it can mean hiring someone to help care for children, pets, or elderly parents, or manage the house and yard work. Because it can be difficult to turn your head with whiplash, most people can’t drive until they recover and have to rely on friends to get around or hire a car service.

These costs add up quickly. If you’re not at fault for your accident, they shouldn’t be your responsibility. 

Your experienced car accident attorney can put together a case showing fault in your rear-end collision and negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance companies. If you need to file a lawsuit, they can file it and represent you in court.

Contact a skilled personal injury lawyer near you today for help determining fault and recovering compensation for your rear-end collision.

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