Rear-End Collisions in Washington: Who is at Fault?

For most people in and outside of Washington State, the driver that rear-ended another car is automatically at fault and should be held liable for damages. You could be forgiven for thinking so; after all, aren’t drivers supposed to see and be concerned about cars and obstacles ahead of them?

There are not enough ways to explain how misleading this notion is. Well, you can say that the driver at the back is more likely to be at fault for the accident, but there is nothing automatic or predetermined about the conclusion.

When the driver in the back is not at fault

When a vehicle rear-ends another, both drivers could be held liable for the collision. The lead driver may make an expected change such as making an erratic maneuver, slamming on the brakes, or stopping abruptly, which may make it hard for the rear driver to stop in time. In such cases, both drivers are likely to be held liable.

Another more plausible exception is when a car is driving in reverse. The same logic used above may apply if both drivers were driving in reverse at the time of the collision. However if the rear car was not in motion, the lead driver will likely carry all the blame since they struck from the front. A good example is when the light at the intersection changes to red and a car drifts too far out of the lane. As the driver tries to reverse out of the intersection, they may slam into the vehicle that is directly behind them in what would still be considered a case of rear-ending. The rear driver will almost certainly not be at fault since the lead driver reversed into their car while it was where it was supposed to be.

It is a complicated topic that is bound by a set of equally complicated laws in Washington. Consider consulting a car accident lawyer in Kent for independent determination of fault.

How is negligence established when a car rear-ends another

If you rear-end a car (technically) but reckon you are not responsible for the collision, you will need to provide prove that the lead driver’s negligence or recklessness caused the accident. Here is what the court requires you provide:

  • Proof that the other driver owed a duty of care or that they had the onus to act with care at the time of the accident
  • Proof that the other driver violated this obligation
  • Proof that this violation, i.e. negligence from the lead driver are the reason you, them, or both or you suffered damages or injuries following the accident
  • Proof that you suffered actual harm. You have no claim if you didn’t incur any loss or sustain any injury during the accident

In most Washington rear-end accident cases, the rear driver ends up receiving some liability for the collision. This is partly due to the logic that the rear driver should maintain a safe distance behind the lead vehicle to enable them to act in case of an emergency, and generally be paying close attention to changes on the road.

That said, there is still a chance that you have absolutely nothing to do with the crash and shouldn’t be blamed for any injuries or damage suffered.