a rear-end accident in Olympia | Fuller and Fuller, Attorneys, PLLC

When determining who is at fault in a rear-end accident, the answer is generally the rear or “approaching” vehicle. However, that is not always the case. Depending on the details of a wreck, either one – or both – of the drivers involved could be at fault. It’s important to discuss your situation with a knowledgeable lawyer who has experience in these difficult cases.

Attorney Marya Fuller is a specialist in accident and injury law. She has helped clients throughout Washington achieve justice in a range of complex claims. If you were hit from behind and suffered injuries as a result, contact Fuller & Fuller, Attorneys PLLC to discuss your case for free.

A number of factors must be considered when determining fault in a rear-end crash. An attorney will investigate the facts in your case and identify the party or parties who may be held liable for your injuries. Below are some key considerations.

The Following Driver Has the “Primary Duty” To Avoid Causing a Rear-End Accident

As a general rule, drivers have a duty to leave enough space in front of them to avoid a rear-end collision. Section 46.61.145 of the Revised Code of Washington states, “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”

The courts in Washington have held that this statutory duty means that the following driver will be liable for rear-end accidents in most cases. For example, as the Washington Court of Appeals stated in Svehaug v. Donoghue:

“Where one vehicle is following another vehicle, the primary duty of avoiding a collision rests upon the following driver.In the absence of an emergency or unusual condition, [the following driver] is negligent if [that driver] runs into the car ahead. . . “].” 

Even in cases of emergency, drivers still have a duty to operate their vehicles safely, and they can be held liable if they cause a rear-end collision. In Svehaug v. Donoghue, the Washington Court of Appeals continued:

“[T]he following driver is not necessarily excused even in the event of an emergency, for it is [the following driver’s] duty to keep such distance from the car ahead and maintain such observation of that car that [the driver] can make such emergency stop as may be required by reasonably foreseeable traffic conditions.”

In other words, Washington law holds that the following driver will be deemed at fault in a rear-end accident in most cases. Absent “emergency or unusual” circumstances, it is the driver who gets rear-ended who will be entitled to just compensation. 

When Can the Driver In Front Be Held Liable for a Rear-End Accident? 

Given that the following driver has the “primary duty” to avoid causing a collision, when can the driver in front be held liable for a rear-end accident in Washington? 

While these cases are less common, there are still a variety of scenarios in which the driver in front can be at fault for causing a rear-end collision. For example, the driver in front may be deemed at fault if:

  • The driver in front merges or changes lanes without leaving enough room for the following driver to avoid a collision;
  • The driver in front brakes harshly and unexpectedly without reason; or, 
  • The driver in front was driving without functioning tail lights or brake lights. 

Even if a driver executes an unsafe lane change, the following driver still has a duty to try to avoid a collision. The following driver must slow down to avoid tailgating, and must try to re-establish enough of a buffer to stop safely. Likewise, even if a vehicle’s brake lights aren’t working, this does not automatically excuse the following driver for causing a rear-end collision. 

Both Drivers Can Share Liability for a Rear-End Collision in Some Cases 

In a few circumstances, both drivers can share liability for a rear-end collision. When this is the case, each driver will be entitled to recover a portion of his or her losses under Washington law. 

Talk to a Washington Car Accident Lawyer for FREE

Do you need to know your legal rights after a rear-end accident in Washington? If so, we encourage you to contact us for a FREE, no-obligation consultation with an experienced car accident attorney.

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Contact Fuller & Fuller, Attorneys PLLC today online or at  (800) 570-4878. For over 50 years, our firm has served clients throughout Washington, including Olympia, Tacoma, and other areas.

by Fuller & Fuller Attorneys at Law
Last updated on - Originally published on

Posted in: Car Accidents