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In a Rear End Collision, Is the Driver in Back Always at Fault?

In 2020, there were over 19,000 rear-end collisions in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Rear-end crashes accounted for 82 fatalities. 

Sometimes, the driver who caused the rear-end accident must pay damages. In many–but not all–cases, the trailing or rear driver bears responsibility for the accident. This begs the question, who is at fault in a rear end collision?

If you were involved in a rear-end crash, consult a Pennsylvania car accident attorney at Cousin Benny to learn more about which driver might be at fault in this common car accident scenario. Cousin Benny’s knowledgeable team of personal injury lawyers can help you by:

  • Evaluating the facts of your case.
  • Negotiating with insurance.
  • Representing you in a car accident negligence matter. 

Contact us at Cousin Benny today by calling 866-LAW-2345 or sending a message to set up a consultation with a Pennsylvania car accident attorney after you’ve been rear-ended.

Establishing Fault for Rear End Collisions

Drivers are responsible for driving safely, obeying traffic rules, maintaining an appropriate distance from vehicles in front of them, and avoiding abrupt stops. 

When the Driver in the Back is At Fault

The rear car is often at fault for the following reasons when a rear-end collision occurs:

  • The following vehicle must keep a safe distance from the car in front.
  • Unlike the lead vehicle, the rear vehicle can see the other car. 
  • By navigating carefully and looking ahead, the driver in the back can prevent rear-end accidents.
  • Texting or driving intoxicated can lead to rear-end collisions when rear drivers ignore the position of the car in front. 

The trailing driver is not always the sole cause of rear-end car accidents. The driver in front can be responsible for the auto accident, or both drivers can cause the crash. 

When the Driver in Front is At Fault

Occasionally, the lead driver’s negligence can cause rear-end collisions:

  • A front driver who reverses the vehicle can strike the car behind it.
  • Road rage can make the lead driver act recklessly.
  • Brake checking, an example of road rage, happens when the front driver stops abruptly without justification. Brake checking can cause rear-end car accidents when the following driver does not stop in time. Sudden stops can lead to traffic citations and even reckless driving charges against the front driver. 
  • The vehicle ahead can cause an accident by failing to move to the side of the road to address a mechanical problem.
  • The lead car can neglect to fix broken brake lights. When the front driver stops, the brake lights do not go on, and the at-fault driver in the back has no warning that the lead car is slowing down.  
  • The front negligent driver could be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or engaging in distracted driving. 

When Both Drivers Are at Fault

In other cases, both drivers can be at fault for rear-end car accidents: 

  • The leading car may stop suddenly, and the driver in the back may fail to slow down. 
  • Low visibility can make it difficult to see ahead, reducing the driver’s ability to prevent accidents. 
  • Both drivers could act recklessly by texting or driving under the influence.

Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence

All drivers must exercise reasonable care on the road and avoid accidents. When a driver breaches that responsibility and causes an accident, the driver may be liable for negligence. 

Generally, the driver who caused the rear-end car accident–such as by ignoring the car ahead or slamming on the brakes–was negligent. 

However, sometimes both drivers make mistakes that lead to a rear-end car accident. If you contributed to a rear-end car accident, can you recover damages through personal injury claims? 

Your right to recover damages depends on the rule your state follows. Some states have contributory negligence rules, which permit individuals to recover damages even if they contributed substantially to an incident. 

Other states have comparative negligence rules or modified comparative negligence rules. Comparative negligence laws bar a person who contributed to an accident from recovering anything. Modified comparative negligence rules allow an individual who partially caused a crash to recover damages as long as others played more prominent roles in the accident. 

Modified Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania adopts the modified comparative negligence rule. In Pennsylvania, you can obtain compensation for a rear-end car accident even if you were partially at fault. Pennsylvania’s modified comparative negligence rule states: 

  • Contributing to an accident does not necessarily bar a person from recovering damages. 
  • Someone who contributed to an accident may receive damages if they do not bear most of the responsibility for the accident. 
  • Yet, the damages will be smaller when a person helped cause the accident. The court should reduce the damages by the person’s contribution to the incident.  

Getting Compensation after a Rear-End Collision

If you are injured in a rear-end collision, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and vehicle damage. 

In Pennsylvania, the way you can obtain compensation depends on the type of insurance you have. Under state law, you could choose whether to purchase fault-based or no-fault insurance

If you have fault-based insurance, you can sue the driver at fault. You may be able to recover compensatory damages and punitive damages. 

  • Compensatory damages repay you for the direct costs of the accident, such as medical bills, incidental expenses, and property damage. There is no statutory limit to the number of compensatory damages you could receive. The amount you could receive depends on your unique situation and how much you suffered from the accident. 
  • Punitive damages punish the person who acted recklessly and caused your accident. Pennsylvania law caps punitive damages at twice the amount of compensatory damages. 

No-fault insurance limits your ability to bring claims against others in many cases. If you have no-fault insurance, you must rely on your insurance company to cover the costs associated with the accident, even if the other driver caused the rear-end collision. 

Hire the Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at Cousin Benny

Although the driver in the back is often responsible for a rear-end collision, these accidents are not always clear-cut. In some cases, the lead driver causes or contributes to the accident. 

If you were involved in a rear-end collision, an experienced car accident attorney could advocate for you. At Cousin Benny, our skilled Philadelphia car accident lawyers understand how insurance companies and courts determine who is responsible for an accident. 

Contact our law office in Philadelphia, PA, to set up a consultation today by calling 866-LAW-2345. 



  1. 2020 Pennsylvania Crash Facts & Statistics ​​
  2. Liability and Compensation for Rear End Accidents, Nolo

Section 7102 Comparative Negligence

Benjamin Hoffman

Benjamin Hoffman is a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Benjamin handles cases for individuals who have been injured as a result of an accident, slip/trip and fall or medical negligence.

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Benjamin Hoffman
Benjamin Hoffman is a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Benjamin handles cases for individuals who have been injured as a result of an accident, slip/trip and fall or medical negligence.
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