You’re properly stopped at a red light and suddenly you’re hit by another driver from behind. Your story is not rare. Rear end collisions are the most common car accident types in the United States, with drivers causing an estimated 1.7 million each year—that’s one every eight seconds! Over 1,700 people a year die in these crashes and another half a million are hurt. They’re no joke and if you’ve been injured in one, you should be aware of your rights and the next steps you should take. Contact an experienced auto accident attorney today to get the compensation you deserve.
Causes of Rear End Collisions
Many things can cause rear end collisions, but the most common is distracted driving. In a world where nearly all of us have a smartphone within arms reach at all times, people are often tempted to pick theirs up when they should be devoting all of their attention to the operation of a motor vehicle. Just a split second of distraction can have serious consequences.
Even if a driver is not distracted, operating a vehicle at an excessive speed can also cause collisions. Most people realize that a vehicle moving at a higher rate of speed will take longer to stop than one driving more slowly. But that doesn’t always keep them from ignoring speed limits.
Other times, a rear end collision is caused in part by road conditions such as rain which can make roads slippery and increase stop time. Even so, drivers have a responsibility to adjust their driving to meet accommodate for road conditions. Mechanical failure can lead to an inability to stop in time. Sometimes rear end collisions can be traced to faulty brake lights or something the front car did, but as you will see, those cases are relatively rare and in Florida it is assumed that driver of the rear car is responsible for the accident.
Types of Rear End Collision Injuries
You or your passengers may sustain several types of injuries in a rear end collision, ranging from mild to severe. Even if you do not think you are injured at the scene and leave without much medical care, you should monitor your body and seek treatment if you experience dizziness, nausea, increased soreness, or blurred vision. Common rear end collision injuries include:
- Whiplash – Any time your neck experiences a forceful back-and-forth movement (similar to the cracking of a whip), you may experience whiplash. Whiplash is the most common injury in a rear end collision, despite widespread seat belt use. Symptoms include headaches, pain and stiffness in the neck which may worsen over time, numbness and tingling that spreads down the arms, inability to move the neck, fatigue, dizziness, and tenderness in the areas of the body near the neck (shoulders, upper back, and arms). In many cases, whiplash symptoms improve with an exercise and medication regime, but some sufferers have lifelong complications or chronic pain.
- Broken bones – Bone fractures can occur in rear end collisions when the lower extremities are forced forward or compacted in some other way. These will require medical treatment and may require casts and follow up care such as physical therapy once the cast is removed.
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis – Vehicle crashes are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries. These injuries can range in severity, but can cause total paraplegia, require significant financial resources to treat during the patient’s lifetime, affect a person’s ability to work, and significantly reduce life expectancy.
- Concussion – Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs range in severity and are difficult to diagnose because the patient may not exhibit symptoms until days or weeks after the incident. Though severe TBIs are rare in rear end collisions, they certainly do occur and can cause long-term and sometimes debilitating symptoms in sufferers.
At the Accident Scene
Documenting any kind of car accident is important. The first thing you should do after an accident is call 911 and report it. If medical care is required, an ambulance will be sent to begin treatment and transport the injured parties to a nearby medical facility.
Police officers will arrive and they should take statements from any witnesses, interview you, the other driver, and any passengers (depending on whether or not injuries have been sustained and how severe they are, these interviews may take place elsewhere or after the face), and take photographs of any vehicle damage (you can also do the same if you are able). They will then file a report with the information they have gathered.
This data is important to have if you need to file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver. If you don’t have it, you may be left in a he-said-she-said situation or be forced to piece it together from other sources. It is in your best interest to call the police.
What to Do if You Were Injured
If you’ve been injured, you will certainly feel physical pain, which usually leads to financial pain. all Florida drivers are required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance on their vehicles under its no-fault law. This policy covers you, the people who operate your vehicle, passengers in your vehicle, as well as other people struck by your vehicle who suffer bodily injury. The idea is that your policy will automatically pay you without regard for fault in the accident.
File Your PIP Claim
The coverage requirements under the law are fairly minimal—$10,000 for medical benefits, $10,000 for disability benefits, and $5,000 in death benefits. To claim your benefits, you only have 14 days from the date of your accident to file your claim, so you should do so right away. The insurance company has to pay your claim within 30 days, but is permitted to investigate for fraud for up to 60 days.
Unfortunately, there is also a gaping loophole for insurance companies in the law—if the insurance company determines that you did not actually have an “emergency medical condition”, they may only pay for 25 percent of your medical costs. If you’ve been denied payment, contact an attorney right away. You may be able to contest the determination and receive the rest of the benefit you’ve been paying premiums for.
You may buy insurance with higher PIP benefit amounts. You cannot, however, change your policy once you’ve submitted a claim. It bears giving your benefit amount some careful consideration when purchasing your auto insurance policy.
Your accident might have been one in which you only suffered minor injuries. Maybe you only needed a sling or to have some x-rays taken that ruled out any broken bones and were subsequently sent home with instructions to take ibuprofen as needed, rest, and lay off the physical labor for a few days. You may even be able to return to work the next day. Your medical benefit under PIP (even the minimum) should take care of that and you can move on with your life.
But what if your injuries are more severe and $10,000 doesn’t begin to cover the bills that begin to show up like a waterfall in your mailbox? A lengthy hospital stay, extensive follow up care, or a significant period of time off work can add up to over $10,000 in a hurry. At that point, it might be in your best interest to file a lawsuit against the other party.
Under Florida law, you have four years from the date of your accident to file your personal injury lawsuit. That might seem like a long time, but the sooner you schedule your consultation with your attorney, the sooner you will understand what your options are, and the sooner your attorney can begin the big task of preparing your lawsuit. Filing soon can also save you the stress of having bills you can’t pay pile up over four years and throughout the time it takes to resolve your case.
Types of Damages
The remedy in personal injury cases is monetary damages, but the law breaks them into three general types—economic, non-economic, and punitive. Any costs you seek compensation for must exceed what your PIP plan has already paid you for—in other words, no double dipping.
Economic damages consist of compensation for those costs with an actual dollar amount attached to them—think bills you receive in the mail. They include the cost of your initial hospital stay, follow up appointments, surgery, ambulance ride, different types of therapies, and rehabilitation. If you have had to hire someone to perform services around your house for you (housework, lawn maintenance, caring for children, or grocery shopping), you may also be able to recover for the money you spend to hire those people.
Many injuries prevent people from working, either for a temporary period of time, or for the rest of their lives. Other times, a person is able to work, but doesn’t have their pre-accident mental or physical abilities and is forced to take work in a different field for lower pay. There’s a dollar amount associated both with the amount of wages you’ve already lost, and how much you will lose in the future.
Non-economic damages are more complex to prove, but are intended to compensate you for those injuries you have suffered which are perhaps less tangible. You cannot put a cast around your mental pain and suffering or readily put a number on how much neck pain you have, but you can be compensated for those very real kind of injuries. In addition to mental and physical pain and suffering, you may be able to recover for loss of enjoyment of life, physical impairment, inconvenience, or disfigurement. Family members also suffer when a loved one suffers a severe injury and Florida law allows certain family members—usually a spouse—to file a claim in your suit seeking compensation for the loss of his or her relationship with you.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the other party (economic and non-economic damages focus on compensating you). Although fairly rare in Florida personal injury cases, courts may award them if the behavior of the other party is egregious enough or there was an intent to injure.
It is typical in an accident scenario for the parties to blame each other. A lot of rear end collisions happen each year and, it may seem obvious who was at fault, but if your injuries are serious enough and you file a lawsuit against the other driver, that person will likely try to shift blame.
As mentioned above, under Florida law, there is a presumption (legal assumption) that the rear driver in a rear end collision is at fault. But that presumption is rebuttable, meaning that the rear driver can present evidence to try to show that you bear some of the blame. Some situations in which you as the front driver may be partly responsible for the accident include:
- Sudden and unexpected stops. Note that stopping suddenly at an intersection is not unexpected and the driver behind you bears the responsibility of not running into you at a red light.
- Someone was driving erratically or recklessly.
- Someone stopped in the roadway and did not use emergency lights or flares to warn other drivers.
- The rear vehicle was hit from behind by another vehicle. Attributing fault in a multi-car pileups can get complicated very quickly.
- The other vehicle had missing or nonworking tail or brake lights.
The good news is that even if you are found to be partially at fault, under Florida’s comparative negligence statute, you can still recover for the portion of damages that were not your fault.
Still have questions? Need help with your claim? Contact a car accident attorney. Don’t face fighting your insurance provider over a PIP benefit denial or with another driver and their insurance company alone.