The Arizona Department of Transportation reports that rear-end collisions are the most common kind of traffic accident on Arizona roads. About 43% of Arizona crashes that cause injuries, and 11% of fatal crashes, involve rear-end collisions.
Insurance companies promote the myth that rear-end collisions are not usually serious, particularly when they occur at low speeds. Arizona traffic accident lawyers understand that accident injuries are unpredictable. Some people walk away from a high-speed crash without a scratch, while other people suffer from a long-term disability after being injured in a low-speed rear-end collision.
Settlements of collision claims are based on two primary factors: whether the injury victim contributed to the collision, and the extent of the victim’s losses, both economic and noneconomic. Another factor that sometimes affects car accident settlements is the availability of insurance coverage. That’s why it is important for all Arizona drivers to protect themselves by buying uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Responsibility for Rear-End Accidents
In many cases, the drivers of two cars that collide both share at least some responsibility for the accident. The injury compensation paid to the driver who was less at fault will be reduced to reflect that driver’s share of responsibility for the accident. When a rear-end collision occurs, however, fault usually rests solely on the driver who struck the rear of another vehicle. For that reason, most rear-end car accident settlements allow injury victims to recover full compensation.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 87% of rear-end collisions happen because a driver isn’t paying attention to the road. These statistic should not be surprising. Cars do not suddenly appear from nowhere. In most cases, a driver who doesn’t notice a car in time to avoid striking it just isn’t watching the road.
Distracted driving is a growing phenomenon in Arizona. Drivers take their eyes off the road to send or read a text or to dial a cellphone call. Other causes of distracted driving include entering data into a GPS device, taking selfies, applying makeup, unwrapping a fast food meal, or staring at something or someone to the side of the driver’s traffic lane.
Speeding is a factor that contributes to the severity of rear-end collisions. The consumption of alcohol, driver fatigue, and tailgating may also be contributing factors. All of those factors are taken into account when settling a rear-end collision claim.
Less commonly, drivers come over the crest of a hill or around a blind curve and are surprised to find a car stopped in the lane. Those collisions are still likely to be the fault of the driver who was in motion, because a cautious driver who anticipates trouble will slow down and be prepared to take evasive action in those situations. While a driver who is stopped in the road for no reason might share responsibility for the accident, most victims of rear-end collisions in Phoenix have stopped for a red light or for traffic congestion. In those cases, the rear-ended driver did nothing wrong and cannot be said to have contributed to the collision.
Whiplash Injury Settlements
Many kinds of injury can be caused by a rear-collision. A front seat occupant who is not wearing a seatbelt or safety harness may be thrown into the steering wheel or windshield, causing chest or head injuries. Knee injuries are common when an occupant’s knee strikes the dashboard. Broken glass may cause cuts and disfigurement. A rear-end car accident settlement should provide appropriate compensation for all those injuries.
The most common injury in a rear-end crash is a whiplash injury. For years, insurance adjusters have claimed that whiplash injuries are fabricated. “Whiplash” became a dirty word, making it more difficult to obtain fair settlements for rear-end collisions.
Thanks to the science of biomechanics, we now know that collisions exert several forces on the occupants of rear-ended cars. Expert witnesses are available to testify about those forces at trial. Since they can no longer pretend that whiplash is an invented injury, insurance adjusters are now forced to settle rear-end collision cases.
Experts in biomechanics explain that three things happen in a rear-end collision. First, the car and its occupants are pushed forward. The car accelerates rapidly, causing the occupant’s back to straighten as the seat pushes against it. That motion compresses the disks in the occupant’s back and neck. At the same time, the occupant’s neck rotates because the pelvis moves forward more quickly than the back.
Second, as the seat pushes the occupant’s torso forward, the head moves backward. Usually a headrest brings that motion to an abrupt halt.
Third, the car decelerates rapidly — very rapidly if the car strikes another vehicle or a fixed object. Deceleration causes the occupant’s body and head to move forward, but a seat belt and shoulder harness usually stops the motion of the torso. That causes the occupant’s unrestrained head to snap forward.
All of those motions happen in less than half a second. The intense forces produced by the collision damage ligaments and muscles in the neck, cause nerve roots to be torn, and injure the fibers in cervical disks.
Low-Speed Rear-End Collision Settlements
Insurance adjusters usually concede that a high-speed rear-end collision might cause an injury. They nevertheless contend that victims of low-speed crashes were faking their whiplash injuries. They used that claim to argue against making full settlement of a rear-end accident injury.
For years, the insurance industry claimed that rear-end accidents cannot cause neck injuries unless the collision occurred at speeds of 15 mph or higher. The insurance industry based those claims on studies that the insurance industry funded.
Neutral studies have since discredited that claim. Objective researchers have established that crashes can cause neck injuries at much lower speeds. One study found that 20% of accident victims experienced neck pain lasting at least one month when they occupied a car that accelerated by 5 mph after a rear-end collision. A stationary car can accelerate by 5 mph when it is rear ended by a vehicle of similar size that is moving at 6 to 8 mph.
Studies also show that there is no significant correlation between whiplash injuries and damage to the rear of the injury victim’s vehicle. Those studies are an effective weapon against insurance adjusters who claim that a neck injury must be faked because the accident victim’s car sustained minimal damage.
These studies have made it easier for Arizona auto collision attorneys to settle rear-end accident claims. When insurance adjusters balk, attorneys can make a credible threat to take a case to trial, knowing that scientists are on their side. Insurance adjusters usually settle rather than risking the expense of a trial that the insurance company will probably lose.