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Fault in a Rear End Collision: Not Always Open and Shut Case

In Colorado, a rear-end collision isn't necessarily an open and shut case.

Car accidents happen in a variety of ways — fender benders, head-on crashes, and the extremely common rear-end collision, the most prevalent type of auto accident in the U.S.

There is a well-known presumption that the fault for rear-end collisions always belongs to the driver who hit the car in front of him. But is this always the case?

Fault in a Rear-End Collision

It is typically true that the driver of a car that rear-ends a leading vehicle will almost always be considered at least partially negligent for the accident, since every driver has a duty to follow other vehicles at a safe distance.

But it is possible for the driver of the car that’s rear-ended to be considered negligent as well, such as in these situations:

  • A driver backs up suddenly.
  • A driver stops abruptly to make a turn and then decides not to execute the turn.
  • A driver’s brake lights are not operating properly and the vehicle behind him didn’t realize that the brakes had been applied.
  • A driver gets a flat tire but does not pull over to the shoulder of the road or does not turn the vehicle’s hazard lights on.

In these examples, the driver of the car that got rear-ended would likely be considered negligent. The legal impact of that driver’s negligence would depend on how much his negligence contributed to the accident.

Chain-Reaction Crashes

In some situations, rear-end accidents involve multiple vehicles. These chain-reaction crashes typically occur when two cars are pushed into each other when a third car hits the middle car, forcing it into the rear of the first car. In this situation, the driver of the third car would likely be considered at fault for the damages to the other vehicles, even though he did not physically hit the lead car.

Traffic and liability laws would likely protect the middle car in such a situation because the residual or secondary collision caused between the middle and the first car is actually the result of a prior or primary collision between the third and second cars.

Modified Comparative Fault in Colorado

States differ on how accident situations are treated when more than one party may be at fault. Colorado has a modified comparative fault rule, which allows a victim to pursue compensation for an injury caused by someone else’s negligence, even if the victim was partially at fault, as long as their degree of fault does not exceed 50 percent.

However, claimants who are proven to be more to blame for their injuries than the defendant will not be entitled to seek damages. If a plaintiff is determined to be 10 percent at fault for his injuries, he will only receive 90 percent of the damages; if he is found to be 51 percent at fault, he will receive nothing. This is known as a defense verdict.

In modified comparative fault states like Colorado, an accident victim should seriously consider retaining experienced legal counsel because an effective attorney might be able to increase a client’s recovery by making a convincing argument to reduce their degree of fault, particularly to keep it below the critical 50 percent threshold.

Image by James Cridland, under Creative Commons license.


My daughter and I first consulted with Dan Rosen after a very serious auto accident. Dan had several phone conferences with me, and Tracie was available whenever I called. We would recommend personal injury attorney Dan Rosen to anyone!
Sally from Denver, Colorado

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