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Brent Adams & Associates

Q
Can you always recover from an injury caused when someone rear-ends you?

A

No. Common sense would tell us that if a driver drives his or her car into the back of the vehicle in front of them they would have to be speeding or guilty of distracted driving.  

After all, North Carolina law requires that all drivers be vigilant in keeping a proper lookout for hazards. Certainly another car in front of a driver would be something that the driver should see and avoid hitting.  

The rear-end collision is one which most people think there is no defense to. However, ingenious insurance company lawyers are sometimes able to conjure up defenses to obvious damages case. More surprisingly, sometimes juries are swayed by these defenses and have, in the past, found that a driver who rear-ends the car in front of them was not negligent.

One of the defenses sometimes used by insurance company lawyers is the defense of "sudden emergency". Under this theory, if an unusual event happens suddenly then the negligent driver could be excused for causing a collision. However, the law of sudden emergency provides that if the negligent party himself caused the sudden emergency, then that negligent party cannot take advantage of the doctrine of sudden emergency.  

Defense lawyers sometimes argue that the defendant should not be held liable for the damages done in a rear-end collision because the person the defendant hit suddenly stopped or suddenly slowed down without warning and that the defendant was therefore involved in a "sudden emergency" for which the defendant is not liable.  

It is hard to imagine how the doctrine of sudden emergency would apply in that situation. After all, the law does require that all drivers look and see what is there to be seen. If a driver is looking and is not following too close, there is no good reason why a motorist would run into the back of another car unless they were not paying close attention.  

Another defense commonly used by imaginative defense lawyers is that somehow the person who was rear-ended was  contributorily negligent. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if the injured party was negligent, even to the extent of one percent and that negligence contributed to the injury, the injured party recovers nothing. In rear-end cases, defense lawyers sometimes argue that the person who was rear-ended slowed down or stopped suddenly or did not have their warning lights on, or in some other way was negligent. If the defense lawyer can convince a jury that the person who was rear-ended was negligent or careless in any way, and if a jury finds that such carelessness contributed to the injured party's injury, then the injured party recovers nothing and the defendant is relieved of any financial responsibility for the injuries.  

There are very few absolutes in the law. Although common sense would tell us that a motorist who rear-ends another motorist is responsible for the harm that driver cause. However, as surprising as it may seem, that is not always the case.  Occasionally, a driver who rear-ends another is able to escape responsibility for his negligent conduct.