Presumption of Negligence in Rear-End Accident

A presumption of negligence arises where a motor vehicle is stopped and that vehicle is suddenly struck from behind by another vehicle. From that presumption, the trier of fact may reasonably infer negligence on the part of the driver of the following vehicle. Andrade v. Housein, 147 Md. App. 617 (2002).

Rear-end accidents are the most common type of car and truck accident in Maryland. Typical rear-end collisions are caused by a sudden deceleration by the lead car and the following car not leaving enough time to brake given the speed of the vehicle, causing a collision with the lead car.

There are approximate 27 rear-end accidents per 100 miles traveled in Maryland. This many not sound like a lot, but Marylanders are traveling trillions of miles every year in motor vehicles. Fortunately, the personal injuries sustained in the typical rear impact collision are usually not as severe as other types of crashes, most notable head-on car accidents. But the human and property damage losses from rear-end crashes cost the citizens of Maryland millions of dollars each year in medical expenses, lost productive time and numerous property damage insurance claims. Nationally, the Department of Transportation's study estimates that the personal injury costs alone for rear-end crashes exceed $5 billion per year.

Other studies have concluded that the great majority of rear-end accidents are caused by drivers following too closely to the vehicle in front of them. Improper following distance was the main factor in these traffic mishaps.

Accident reconstructionists tell us that rear-ending another car or truck is roughly the equivalent of hitting a brick wall at half of the speed the impacting vehicle was traveling (assuming the lead vehicle had stopped). This means that rear-ending a still car while going at 30 mph is equivalent, in terms of mechanical damage and occupants injury, to impacting a wall at 15 mph for both vehicles, assuming both vehicles are the same size, which obviously would not be the case in a truck accident with a passenger car.

In most jurisdictions, there is law that sets forth in general terms the distance to be maintained by a motor vehicle from the one ahead of it, such as a "reasonable and prudent" distance. The relevant Maryland statute is Maryland Transportation Code Annotated, § 21-310(a)(2005), which states, in pertinent part:

"The driver of a motor vehicle may not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the other vehicle and of the traffic on and the condition of the highway."

Accordingly, drivers following another motorist must remain a sufficient distance behind so as to be able to avoid hitting the driver in front of them. It really is that simple.

The issue tort victims face is how should a jury be instructed in a rear-end accident. Stated differently, must plaintiff prove some specific act of negligence or can we infer fault in a rear-end accident?

According to the Court of Special Appeals in Andrade v. Housein, 147 Md. App. 617 (2002), found that, in rear-end car crashes, plaintiffs receive a presumption in favor of their injured clients that the rear-end collusion was caused by the rear-ending drivers' negligence. Accordingly, the jury instruction set forth above is appropriate in a rear-end accident case. This presumption of negligence in Maryland rear-end accidents is, however, rebuttable by the defendant.

If you have been injured motor vehicle wreck, call 800-553-8082 or ask a question or have your case evaluated here.

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