Driving distractions happen. Whether you looked down at your cell phone at an inopportune time, spilled a bit of coffee on your shirt, or glanced into the back seat to locate a dropped pacifier, in one brief moment you could find yourself rear-ending the vehicle in front of you. If you're being sued for causing injuries or damage in a rear-end collision, how can you defend yourself? Will you be determined to have been negligent if the plaintiff's car crash attorney can show that you were looking at your cell phone or engaging in other distracting activities while driving? Read on to learn more about defending yourself against this type of claim, as well as how a biomechanic expert witness may be able to help you.
When are you legally liable for causing damage in a rear-end collision?
In nearly all situations, the driver whose car collides with the back of a vehicle in front of it will bear financial and legal responsibility for any damage that takes place.
The only exceptions are when the vehicle you struck had pulled out in front of you without giving you adequate time or room to stop, or if the vehicle slammed on its brakes so quickly that you (following at the legally mandated distance) could not stop in time. You'll likely also be off the hook in situations where the forward vehicle rolled or moved in reverse to strike the front of your car.
In some situations, even if you are considered to be at fault in the accident, the driver of the vehicle in front of you may bear some liability for his or her own injuries as well. Called "contributory negligence," this legal principle helps assign fault and monetary damages in personal injury cases.
For example, if you are found at fault for causing the collision, but it's discovered that the driver you hit had braked suddenly because he or she had been texting and not paying attention to a road hazard, you might each be assigned 50 percent liability. The total medical and property damage costs incurred as a result of the accident will be totaled, and each party's auto insurance will pay half these costs. In other situations, the plaintiff may be determined to be only 5 or 10 percent at fault, putting the bulk of costs on you (and your insurer).
Although there are no hard and fast rules about the amount of contributory negligence that may be found, most courts will decline to find a plaintiff more than 50 percent contributorily negligent -- if it's found that the plaintiff was more than half responsible for the accident that took place, the case will simply be dismissed.
How can a biomechanic expert witness help your defense?
If you think the contributory negligence argument is your best bet to settle the case inexpensively, you might want to engage the services of an expert witness -- specifically, a biomechanic expert. These scientists can analyze and chart the impact and velocity of the crash, determining precisely who was at fault, what injuries were caused, and whether both vehicles functioned as they should.
For example, a biomechanic expert may be able to create a computer simulation of the crash, indicating the precise speed and angle at which the car in front of yours was hit, as well as the velocity of the other driver's body upon impact. In some cases, this can clearly show that the other driver sustained no injuries -- so claims of whiplash or other severe neck or back pain may be overstated. This could help prevent your insurance company from paying out on a bogus medical claim.
The biomechanic expert may also be able to simulate the airbag deployment and activation of other safety features. In some cases, injuries are made more serious because of a slight delay in the deployment due to a malfunction or defect. If this is the case, your auto manufacturer should cover any costs related to this malfunction. The biomechanic expert can help determine precisely which injuries resulted from vehicle error.