The rear driver is liable in rear end collisions

The rear driver is almost always liable in rear end collisions

If you were injured when someone rear-ended your vehicle, the courts are highly likely to rule in your favour in a negligence suit. It is well established in Ontario case law that when one vehicle strikes another from behind, the rear driver is found to be at fault, based on the premise that they would have been able to stop in time if they had been driving carefully.

How is my insurance affected by a rear end collision?

Your insurance company uses specific fault determination rules defined in the Insurance Act of Ontario to assign fault to policy holders who were involved in collisions. The rules state that when cars are travelling in the same direction, if the car behind strikes the leading car, then the driver of the car behind is 100 per cent at fault, regardless whether the first driver is stopped, in motion or in the act of turning. Further, if three cars are involved in a rear end collision while the first two cars are stopped, then the last car is the only one that has liability in the accident (specifically, 100 per cent fault in hitting the middle car). However, if the first two cars are in motion when a third strikes them from behind, then the last car is still 100 per cent at fault in striking the middle car, but the middle car is also 50 per cent at fault in striking the first car.

There are a few other scenarios under the Insurance Act where fault is shared by the various drivers involved in a rear end collision. If the leading car is turning left at an intersection while another vehicle is passing, then the leading car is 25 per cent at fault and the passing car is 75 per cent at fault in the collision. However, if the same situation occurs at a private road or driveway (i.e. the first driver is turning left when struck by a passing car), then both drivers are considered 50 per cent at fault for the accident. One concern with these general rules is that there can be situations where the driver turning left could not have foreseen another driver pulling out to pass at that moment, and in such situations, drivers who were found partially at fault may understandably feel that negligence was unjustly allotted to them. One consolation is that, as of September 1, 2010, Ontario drivers who are 25 per cent at fault in an accident cannot be penalized in terms of having their car insurance rates hiked.

Ontario civil suits identify who is at fault in rear end collisions

In Ontario case law, the courts place the burden of proof on the driver of the rear car to prove that they had no negligence or only partial negligence in a collision. In arguments establishing negligence at trial, the Ontario precedent setting cases of Beaumont v Ruddy, 1932, and Ruetz v Goetz, 1955 are commonly cited. In Ruetz v Goetz, the Ontario Court of Appeal stated:

"When one motor vehicle is following another, there is not only a duty in law on the following vehicle to exercise reasonable care, but if he collides with the leading vehicle there is an onus of proof resting on him which has been correctly described in Beaumont v Ruddy.”

In rare situations, the rear driver may be found not liable or only partially at fault in a rear end collision. One such case might be if a third car was involved in creating a dangerous circumstance that resulted in the rear ending. Also, the rear driver may not be found at fault they can proved that the vehicle ahead came to an inappropriate and sudden stop that no reasonable driver could have predicted or been prepared for.

In a 2015 trial, Rahimi et al. v Hatami et al., the driver of a car was found 100 per cent liable when he rear-ended a car driven by an acquaintance he was following, as they were both driving to a movie. All three occupants of the first vehicle sued the rear driver for injuries they allege to have suffered in the accident. At trial, the defendant denied liability for the collision and cited contributory negligence on the part of the other driver, under the Negligence Act, 1990. He alleged that the first driver was careless in the operation of their vehicle with respect to stopping suddenly and unexpectedly without any warning, despite knowing that they were being followed. The judge did not find proof for, or accept these arguments, noting that in a large city with numerous intersections any driver is entitled to stop or slow down quickly and all motorists should drive in anticipation of that eventuality. Further, the judge concluded that the onus is on each driver to leave enough room to stop safely, given the circumstances and speed.

In another rear ending trial, only the rear driver was again found negligent in a three car crash. This accident happened when a vehicle stopped to turn left into a gas station; the next vehicle stopped behind the first; but the third vehicle in line struck the second, slamming it into the first. Local police charged the driver of the third car with following too closely and failing to report a motor vehicle accident, under the Highway Traffic Act. The accident resulted in fatal injuries for the front seat passenger in the first car. In the resulting 2015 trial, Nadeau et al. v Peters et al., the drivers of the first and second cars argued that the third driver and his father (who was the owner of the car) were entirely liability for the accident.

An eye witness in the case testified that in the minutes prior to the collision, she observed the third car following very closely behind another vehicle, breaking continuously and veering in and out of traffic. Also, in his examination for discovery, the driver of the middle car testified that he was able to stop quickly and safely and the braking required ‘wasn’t anything unusual’.

The driver of the third car gave a different account of the events: he testified that the middle vehicle rear-ended the first when the first car abruptly discontinued turning left due to an oncoming car. It was alleged that these events made it difficult to stop in time. These facts were however inconsistent with the testimony of the first driver who indicated that he was only struck once, and were also not consistent with the Motor Vehicle Accident Report filed by police. The judge concluded that the driver of the third car failed to prove that he was not at fault and was thus found negligent in causing the ‘chain reaction’ accident.

The judge in this case asserted that there is a standard of care onus on the vehicle that follows another. In accordance, there are several expectations: the driver of the second vehicle must keep a reasonable distance; they must keep their vehicle under control at all times; they are obligated to maintain alertness; the driver must drive at a reasonable and appropriate speed; and finally, they must anticipate that the first vehicle may stop at any time or for any reason.

Causes of rear end accidents

Studies of Ontario accidents have determined that the vast majority of collisions are avoidable and result from some form of carelessness or negligence, ranging from impaired driving to taking our eyes off the road to reach for something in our car. Rear end collisions are one of the most common types of accidents, particularly in urban centres. The most frequent cause of rear end collisions is driving too closely or tailgating. Other factors that play a part in causing rear end collisions are as follows.

  • Driving too closely under the circumstances (speed, weather, traffic, etc.)
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Changing lanes carelessly
  • Impaired driving
  • Driver fatigue
  • Driver error
  • Driver in front stopped inappropriately and abruptly

Types of injuries resulting from a rear end collision

A rear end collision sometimes results in very minor or no injuries when traffic is moving slowly. However, it actually doesn’t require a very high speed for drivers and passengers to experience serious injuries in a rear-end collision. This is particularly true if one car is much lighter or smaller than another. An SUV or large truck that collides with a compact car often results in severe injuries for the occupants of the lighter vehicle. Vehicle occupants who have existing health issues or are older, may also suffer more severe and permanent injuries in any type of collision. Another factor in the severity of injury is the make of car; cars that rate high in crash test safety correlate, on average, with less severe injuries for the occupants of those vehicles, than cars that have poor ratings.

Even under similar accident circumstances, the kind and severity of injuries is not the same for everyone. One of the most common injuries in a rear end accident is spinal or neck injury (often termed whiplash) which is caused by the sudden and violent impact. Other injuries that can result for victims of a rear end collision include: back injuries, brain injury, facial injuries, loss of vision, fractures, and paralysis.

Not unlike other accident victims, it is not uncommon for victims of a rear end collision to suffer from anxiety and stress-related symptoms. These symptoms may worsen and develop into post-traumatic stress disorder and/or may lead to chronic pain syndrome. Injured persons should consult with a family physician or another appropriate medical specialist if they are experiencing any ongoing anxiety that may be related to the traumatic event.

Injured persons are owed compensation

If you or a loved one was severely injured in an accident, then compensation for your injuries will play an important part in your recuperation and in getting you back on your feet. If you were unable to work due to your injuries, you may be eligible for damages for your lost wages and loss of future wages. You may also be eligible to receive compensation for your pain and suffering, medical and rehabilitation costs, caregiver costs, housekeeping and home maintenance expenses, and other losses. If your injuries resulted when someone rear ended your vehicle, then you likely have a strong case against the person who caused the accident and their insurance company.

The dedicated lawyers of Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) have the knowledge and experience to get you the compensation you need and deserve. Our caring and committed staff is here to answer your questions and give you an honest assessment of your options. Call your local ILO law office today, so that we may help you by taking care of the legal aspects of your claim so that you can concentrate on getting well.


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