Many if not most Ohio drivers have experienced a minor “fender bender” sometime in their lives. In the best case scenario, these types of rear-end car accidents only result in a minor vehicle damage and no personal injuries. Unfortunately, far too many accidents do not represent the best case scenario.
According to figures published by the Ohio Department of Transportation, during the six-year period between 2006 and 2012, there were 318 fatalities and over 8,700 injuries reported in rear-end accidents throughout the state. Although rear-end accidents only account for around 4 percent of all motor vehicle crash-related fatalities (and 13 percent of serious injuries) in Ohio, that is still a significant number.
Not surprisingly, rear-end crashes are more common in urban areas like Toledo and Bowling Green, where there is more traffic congestion and thus more opportunity for inattentive drivers to run into one another. The Ohio DOT also reported that rear-end crashes tend to “peak” from Wednesday and Friday and between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Where and Why Do Rear-End Accidents Occur?
Unlike other types of car accidents, most rear-end crashes do not occur at intersections. The Ohio DOT actually found that more than 58 percent of rear-end accidents took place at non-intersection locations such as freeways and interstates. The reason for this is actually quite simple: In heavy traffic cars have to make a lot of sudden stops, which in turn increase the risk of a rear-end accident.
The Ohio DOT also identified “driver inexperience” as the main cause of rear-end accidents. Indeed, drivers under the age of 25 accounted for more than 43 percent of all accidents. And in about a third of rear-end collisions, the driver’s error was following the vehicle in front of them too closely.
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Is the Rear Driver Always at Fault?
This leads to a common legal myth surrounding rear-end accidents–namely, that they are “always” the following driver’s fault. Some people think that if they are in the front car, they can simply demand compensation from the rear driver. That is not how personal injury law works in Ohio.
The plaintiff in a car accident lawsuit always has the burden of proving the defendant was at fault. The defendant, in turn, may try to argue the plaintiff was at least partially responsible for the accident. This is known as comparative negligence or comparative fault. A jury ultimately hears all of the evidence and apportions fault.
Ohio follows a 51-percent comparative fault rule. This means that a plaintiff can only recover damages if he or she is deemed less than 51 percent responsible for the accident. You can still recover some damages even if the fault is 50/50, but any final award must be reduced by your share of the blame.
In the context of rear-end accidents, the trailing driver is often held responsible based on state traffic laws that require all drivers to maintain a safe distance between vehicles. And in fact, as the Ohio DOT noted, the most common cause of rear-end accidents is a driver following too closely, i.e. not maintaining a safe distance. Therefore it is often the case that the rear driver is legally responsible for the accident.
That said, there are also other scenarios where the driver of the front vehicle may be partially at-fault. For instance, if the front driver stopped suddenly for no apparent reason, or their brake lights were not functioning properly, that could render them liable rather than the rear driver. So could a case where the front driver signaled but did not a execute a turn.
There are also cases where more than two vehicles are involved in a rear-end accident. You often see this happen on the highway: Car A rear-ends Car B, and in turn Car B rear-ends Car C. In this situation it is possible any or all three of the drivers may be partially responsible. Car A, as the rearmost vehicle, may have “pushed” Car B into Car C, while at the same time, Car B was trailing too closely to Car C.
Because of the potential complexity of a rear-end accident, it is important to contact the police to get an official report. You should also, assuming you do not require immediate medical attention, take pictures at the scene, which can later help a judge or jury reconstruct what happened.
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Understanding Whiplash Injuries
While rear-end accidents are less likely to produce the type of catastrophic injuries seen in side- and front-end collisions, that does not make such accidents any less serious. One of the most common injuries suffered in rear-end accidents is whiplash, which is actually a colloquial term for a certain type of neck sprains.
Whiplash occurs when a rear-end collision suddenly pushes the occupants of the front car forward. It takes a second for their head and neck to “catch up” with their bodies. This causes a hyperextension of the neck that mimics the cracking of a whip–hence the term “whiplash.”
Whiplash is often a deceptive injury. It is not solely a function of how fast the vehicles were traveling–in other words, it occurs in rear-end accidents that occur at relatively low speeds. You also may not experience the symptoms of whiplash. It may take a few hours or even several days.
Whiplash itself is often diagnosed as a “soft tissue” injury. That may not sound too bad, but such injuries can often produce chronic pain that lasts for months or years after the accident. In the short term, whiplash can produce a number of serious symptoms, including pain and stiffness in the neck, inability to move the neck fully, and in severe cases there may also be blurred vision, ringing in the ears, and memory problems.
Do You Need Advice Following a Rear-End Accident?
If you have been involved in a rear-end accident, it is important to speak with an experienced Toledo personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. It is critical to assess your legal options, as well as your potential liability for the accident. Even if you just need help sorting things out with the insurance company, Groth & Associates, Attorneys at Law, can help. Call our offices in Toledo or Bowling Green today if you need to schedule a consultation with one of our qualified Toledo car accident lawyers.