If you have been in a car crash or witnessed one, you may have asked, “who was at fault?” In some cases, it is pretty clear. In other cases, it may not be so clear. There are some common misconceptions regarding Ohio law.
The first question to ask is, were you rear-ended? A rear end collision is the most common type of motor vehicle collision. In fact, thirty-three (33) percent of all traffic crashes are rear end collisions.
Why is this important? Ohio law provides that, “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 statute is commonly known as ACDA. In other words, you must travel at a speed that will allow you to slow down or stop for a vehicle in front of you that slows down or stops. It does not matter if it is icy or rainy or cloudy. It is your responsibility to travel at a safe speed given the conditions of the road.
Because of this law, it is almost always the fault of the driver who has rear ended the other. In a civil suit the legal doctrine of negligence per se applies to a violation of the ACDA statute. If the other driver pleads guilty to an ACDA violation by paying their ticket or admits these facts, they have just admitted that they were negligent or at fault as a matter of law. It is very difficult to dispute an ACDA violation and negligence or fault in a rear-end collision case.
There are a few common situations where the rear-ending driver may not be at fault:
1) The pile-up
Pile ups during rush hour are common on highways and other busy roads. The situation goes like this, the person ahead of you slams on their brakes for a traffic light or slowed traffic ahead. They stop. You stop. The person behind you stops. The person behind them stops. The next person does not stop in time and rear ends the person in front of them causing a chain reaction which causes your vehicle to be struck by the vehicle behind you. Is the person directly behind you at fault? No. In this situation, you must find the driver at the end of the chain to determine who is at fault. If the driver behind you is rear ended and pushed into you, it is not their fault for the crash, the driver who rear ended them is at fault.
2) The back-up
Another common situation occurs where someone backs up when they shouldn’t. For example, someone backs up to try to get around another vehicle to change lanes without any regard to the vehicles behind them.
3) The brake check
We’ve all seen it. Someone is following too closely or cuts someone off, so the other driver “brake checks” them. If someone suddenly stops for no reason, then this is a dangerous behavior and they have some fault for a crash.
4) The cut-off
We’ve all seen this too. Someone tries to change lanes quickly without looking and they cut some poor soul off and then they are rear ended. In Ohio, a driver must maintain a proper lookout and maintain safety when changing lanes. If someone cuts you off, they have some fault.
5) No brake lights
This one is self-explanatory. If someone is driving with no brake lights, particularly at night, this is a dangerous behavior and they have some fault.
We say “some fault,” because more than one driver can be negligent or at fault for a wreck. Ohio is a “comparative fault” state. In Ohio, you can only recover for your injuries if you are not more than 50% at fault for an accident. If you share fault 50-50, then the other driver only has to pay 50% of your damages. If the other driver was 90% at fault and you were 10% at fault, then the other driver is responsible for 90% of your damages.
In most rear end cases, the insurance company will “accept liability” for the accident. Meaning that they admit that their insured was negligent or at fault for the accident. Don’t stop worrying yet though. Even if you were rear ended, that does not mean the insurance company will agree to settle your claim for fair value. There are plenty of other ways for the insurance company to dispute your claims. It is important that you retain a good personal injury lawyer to guide you through the claims process.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/SASStoredProcess/guest
Ohio Revised Code 4511.21 http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4511.21v2
Rimer v. Rockwell Intern. Corp., 641 F.2d 450 (6th Cir. 1981)