On February 6, 2014, two individuals were stopped on Kit Kat Road in Howard County, Maryland while waiting to make a left hand turn. A freightliner rear-ended a Volkswagen and pushed it into another vehicle. The Volkswagen was struck with such force that the driver of the Volkswagen later died from injuries sustained as a result of the collision. This example of outrageous carelessness must be extremely sad for the surviving relatives of the deceased.
While death resulting from a motor vehicle collision is not a common occurrence, rear-end car collisions are fairly common across the United States and they frequently result in injuries to the involved parties. Injured parties should be aware of the law but may wish to consult with a lawyer to determine their specific legal rights.
Generally, in a Maryland accident, when a motor vehicle is stopped and that vehicle is suddenly struck from behind, a presumption arises that the rear ending vehicle’s operator was negligent. Andrade v. Housein, 147 Md. App. 617 (2002). This presumption can be rebutted by additional evidence, (Such as the vehicle was not stopped; it stopped suddenly; it changed lanes abruptly, etc.) however, if the case is litigated, a judge or jury may be permitted to infer negligence on the part of the rear ending vehicle’s operator due to the presumption of negligence.
A rear-end collision or rear-end crash occurs when the front of one vehicle strikes the back of another. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that one-third of all automobile crashes are rear-end collisions. Even though many rear-end collisions occur at low speeds, rear-end collisions can cause significant personal injuries. Common injuries that result from a rear-end collision include neck and back injuries, whiplash, injuries to the face or head, and injuries from an airbag or seat belt.
Rear-end collisions can present complex legal issues, particularly because Maryland law allows a defense of contributory negligence. If you have been injured in a rear-end collision, a accident lawyer who is experienced in rear-end collision lawsuits will be able to help you assess whether you have a potential claim under Maryland personal injury law.
What are the Causes of Rear-End Collisions?
Conventional wisdom held that most rear-end collisions occurred as a result of a driver following too closely behind another vehicle. Of course, this is still a cause of rear-end collisions. However, more recent studies by the NTSB have shown that in 90 percent of rear-end collisions, drivers had the time to physically stop but failed to do so because they were not paying visual attention to what was happening in front of them. Rear-end collisions can be caused by any one of or a combination of the following factors:
- Weather conditions – Weather conditions like rain or snow can cause slippery roads. When a road is slippery, a driver may not be able to brake in time to avoid a stop or slowed car in front.
- Speed – The faster a car is going, the longer it takes it to come to a complete stop. Higher speeds require increased following distance and increased focus on the roadway.
- Following too closely (tailgating) – Allowing less than 2 seconds between yourself and the vehicle in front of you can give you insufficient time to react if they apply the brakes.
- Not paying attention – If a driver is texting, adjusting the music, eating, or otherwise not paying attention, they may not notice if the car in front of them has slowed or stopped.
- Driving under the influence (DUI) – Drugs, including alcohol, can slow reaction time and contribute to rear-end collisions.
- Unsafe lane changes – When a car changes lanes abruptly, it can cause a chain reaction for the cars behind it.
Maryland Personal Injury Law and Rear-End Collisions
A driver whose vehicle is hit from the rear may be able to sue to recover damages in the event they are injured. Typically in a vehicle accident, the injured driver (the plaintiff) must be able to prove that the other driver was negligent. However, when the collision is a rear-end collision, there is a presumption in Maryland that the rear driver was negligent. A presumption allows a court to assume that a particular fact is true in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
The driver who is being sued may raise as a defense that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Maryland is one of just four states that follow the law of contributory negligence. If a plaintiff contributed to the accident at all by being negligent, he or she will not be able to recover damages. Actions that could support a finding contributory negligence include if the plaintiff:
- cut off the other driver;
- was acting with road rage;
- had a vehicle malfunction (for example, if the brake lights on the plaintiff’s car were not working);
- backed into the other vehicle; or
If the plaintiff’s stopped vehicle was disabled and they did not use flares or put on their emergency flashers.
Liability Determinations after Rear End Accident Not Always Clear
Rear-end collisions be the result of a direct impact between two vehicles or in more complex accident cases, they may result from “chain reaction,” collisions. A chain reaction collision is caused when a vehicle is impacted and pushed into another vehicle. When a chain reaction is caused by a tractor trailer or a larger truck, (or a vehicle traveling at high velocity) the force of the impact may be sufficient to spread through multiple vehicles and can result in numerous injuries. In cases like the one from Howard County, described above, it can result in an unfortunate fatality.
Typically, the more vehicles there are involved in a chain reaction collision, the more complex a legal case can become. This is simply because it is becomes impossible or impracticable to “pin” all the liability on one negligent party when several cars collide simultaneously and their operators have conflicting stories of what happened. For example, one driver may claim he was rear ended or pushed into another vehicle, and another driver may instead claim a vehicle in front of him collided first, resulting in a sudden stop which then could not be avoided. The combinations are endless, and if you don’t believe me, take a look at this.
In multiple car collisions, police officers take witness statements but seldom interview parties as to the number and sequence of impacts each felt in order to properly determine how the accident was caused. In order to determine liability in a case involving these types of chain reaction accidents, a thorough accident investigation is an absolute must. In some cases, especially those involving fatalities, an accident reconstruction expert may need to be consulted to examine the number and sequence of impacts, the velocity of the involved vehicles, the resulting amount and location of various property damage and so forth, in order to make a determination as to the cause of the accident.
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