Lopez v. U.S. – Fault in a Rear-End Collision

A rear-end car accident is one in which one vehicle strikes another from behind. In most of these cases, it’s presumed the driver who is tailing is to blame/liable because of the “assured clear distance ahead” rule. This generally requires drivers to maintain a safe distance between her vehicle and the one ahead of her.
Drivers have to operate their vehicles with the presumption that the vehicle ahead of them may brake suddenly. If that happens and the tailing driver doesn’t have enough time to stop and causes a crash, that’s considered a violation of the assured clear distance rule.

However, this rule is not absolute. Not all rear-end accidents are the fault of the passenger who strikes from behind. However, proving this fact requires that a driver show there was either some sudden or unlawful intrusion into her rightful lane of travel or that the lead driver accidentally put their car in reverse.

These are some of the most common kinds of accidents, and proving the fault of the other party – especially if you were the driver in the rear – may be tougher than you think.

A recent rear-end collision that resulted in litigation was the case of Lopez v. U.S., which was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

According to court records, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven in St. Louis by a friend. The lane in which they were driving ended at the intersection. As the driver proceeded straight and merged into the other lane, the car was struck by a U.S. Postal Service tractor-trailer.

The truck driver would later tell the responding officer that the car driver had been operating in the lane that was about to run out and, as they approached the intersection, she “jumped” into his lane just before the light.

There was no dispute the tractor-trailer struck the rear of that car just after the car driver stopped at the intersection for a red light. But the postal worker told the officer he couldn’t stop because the car driver merged suddenly into the lane just in front of him.

Car driver conceded in her testimony she failed to look in the rear view mirror before she applied the brakes.

The impact of the crash pushed the car for a short distance into the intersection, but the air bags didn’t deploy.

Officer later testified at trial she believed the truck driver’s account. She based this at least partially on the fact similar accidents had happened a number of times previously at that same intersection.

At trial, plaintiff’s attorney noted the presumption of negligence under state law holds the driver of a vehicle colliding into the rear of another and argued no evidence had been introduced to refute this presumption.

Trial court, however, rejected that argument, found plaintiff not credible and indicated the car driver’s own testimony revealed she was at-fault. Where plaintiff claimed vehicle was “destroyed,” photographs indicated minor cosmetic damage. There were also inconsistencies regarding the time of the accident and extent of claimed injuries.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Lopez v. U.S., June 26, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Car Crashes Into Charlotte Medical Office, 3 Injured, June 25, 2015, Winston-Salem Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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