Rear-End Collisions in Ohio: Who is Responsible?

Doug Mann

Table of Contents
  1. Who is at fault in a rear-end collision?
  2. Was a driver texting before the crash?
  3. Measuring fault under Ohio law
  4. Situations when the rear driver may not be at fault
  5. Damages for rear-end collisions

With approximately 30% of all traffic crashes recorded as rear-end collisions, these accidents are one of the most common types of motor vehicle mishaps in the Buckeye state.

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According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, there are approximately 80,000 rear-end collisions per year. Of those, about 20,000 resulted in injury with 60 fatalities.

These accidents range from low-speed collisions in residential areas or parking lots to high-speed freeway crashes

Who is at fault in a rear-end collision?

So who is at fault in a rear-end collision? The general assumption is that the rear driver is at fault in a rear-end accident, however there are some situations that call for the lead driver or for multiple drivers to share liability.

Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.21 addresses liability concerning rear-end collisions. Under the statute “no person shall drive any motor vehicle at a greater speed than will permit the person to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.”

A violation of this law is commonly known as failure to maintain assured clear distance ahead (ACDA).  

As with any traffic crash in Ohio, establishing liability requires proof that the defendant (often the rear driver in rear-end collisions) involved in the accident was at fault. Every driver has a general duty of care to operate their vehicle with the same skill level that one would expect from a reasonable and prudent driver. In a rear-end collision, the lead driver must show that the rear driver acted negligently by not exercising proper care and skill and that this failure was the direct and proximate cause of the accident. Proximate cause means the collision wouldn’t have occurred but for the rear driver’s negligence.  

Was a driver texting before the crash?

Different types of negligence which violate traffic laws and cause rear-end collisions include: distracted driving, following too closely, intoxicated driving, unsafe lane changes, speeding, and having worn out brakes or tires. Ohio has also enacted a ban on texting while driving which is codified in Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.204. If a police report, phone company records, or other evidence suggests that the other driver was texting immediately before the crash, there is a strong case for negligence. 

In a civil suit, the legal doctrine of negligence per se applies to a violation of the ACDA statute. If the other driver admits guilt or pleads guilty to an ACDA infraction by paying their ticket, as a matter of law they are considered negligent or at fault. If there’s an ACDA violation, it’s very difficult to dispute fault or negligence in a rear-end collision case. 

Measuring fault under Ohio law

In a rear-end collision, it’s not uncommon for both or multiple drivers to be partially at fault for an accident. Ohio is considered a “comparative fault” state. This means that under Ohio’s comparative negligence laws, a driver who is injured in an accident still has the right to recover damages regardless of whether or not they were partially at fault, but their damages will be reduced by their percentage of negligence. For instance, if you are found to be 25% at fault for an accident and the other driver is 75% at fault, the other driver is responsible for 75% of your damages.

However, if one is found to be more than 50% at fault for a rear-end collision, then they may not recover losses from the other driver(s). Ohio follows a traditional tort system so if a driver is 50% at fault or less for an accident, and they’ve suffered damages, they may file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company or sue the other driver directly. Determining fault in a rear-end collision can be complicated and may require the testimony of experts in the field.  

Situations when the rear driver may not be at fault

In general, insurance companies will assume that the rear driver is responsible for a rear-end collision. However, there are a few common instances in which the rear-ending driver may not be at fault. These include:

  • pileups,
  • unsafe lane changes,
  • when the lead driver suddenly reverses or abruptly stops,
  • if the lead driver did not have working brake lights,
  • if the lead driver was broken down and failed to pull over and engage warning lights,
  • or if the lead driver was intoxicated

Pileups sometimes occur on highways and other busy roads. In this situation, the lead driver slams on their brakes for a traffic light or slower traffic ahead, coming to a stop. The person behind them stops, and then the driver behind them stops. The next car in line fails to stop in time rear-ending the vehicle in front of them causing a chain reaction. In this scenario, the driver at the end of the chain is at fault.

Damages for rear-end collisions

When a person is injured because another driver was negligent and rear-ended their vehicle, they are entitled to pursue compensation for physical, emotional, and economic damages.

This includes medical expenses, lost income, disability, disfigurement, as well as pain and suffering. Loss of consortium claims also allow the spouse or family of the injured or deceased to be compensated for their losses. While most car accident cases settle, it’s important to keep in mind that insurance companies try to reduce what they owe by denying their policyholder’s negligence or suggesting their policyholder shares liability for a rear-end collision. 

Under Ohio law and the ACDA statute, there is a general presumption that the rear driver in a rear-end collision is liable for the accident. However, rear-end collision cases can be complicated and determining fault may not always be so straightforward. There are many common instances in which the lead driver or both drivers are negligent and share some form of liability.

For those involved in a rear-end accident, it may be beneficial or  necessary to consult a personal injury attorney to help navigate the complexities of a rear-end collision case.  

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