In Memphis, Tennessee and surrounding areas in northern Mississippi, rear-end car accidents are all too common. Whether you are involved in a rear-end fender bender or a serious collision, once the dust has settled, you will undoubtedly wonder who is legally at fault.
Establishing fault for a rear-end collision can be tricky. This is why it is a good idea to consult with an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the process of filing an auto accident claim and seeking compensation for your losses.
Generally, the rear driver who strikes the car in front is at fault in a rear-end collision. However, this is not always the case.
The general presumption that the rear driver is at fault exists because that driver is required to leave enough space ahead so that he or she can safely slow down or stop his or her car when needed. The failure to do so is often referred to as “tailgating.”
However, the driver in front may be at fault in cases where the lead driver:
- Fails to ensure brake or tail lights are functioning properly
- Fails to pull off the road in a timely manner when a car breaks down
- Goes into reverse at the time of the accident
- Cuts off the rear driver by making a turn without a signal
- Suddenly changes lanes or stops without warning or a valid reason
- Taps the brakes, or “brake checks.”
Who is at fault if both drivers made mistakes? For example, what if the rear driver was texting when the lead driver suddenly cut him off and caused a rear-end collision? In that situation, both drivers may be partially at fault. Comparative fault rules would apply.
WHAT IS COMPARATIVE FAULT?
In the U.S., three types of comparative fault systems are used in tort cases to allocate damages when multiple parties are partially at fault. It is important to note that each state has implemented one of the comparative fault systems that are briefly outlined below:
- Pure contributory negligence – Generally, a party is not allowed to recover any damages at all if the party is even 1 percent at fault.
- Pure comparative fault – A party can recover damages no matter what percent of the accident was the party’s fault. However, that party’s recovery is reduced in proportion to his or her degree of fault.
- Modified comparative fault – If a party is either 50 or 51 percent (depending on the state) at fault, the party cannot recover damages at all. However, if a party is 49 or 50 percent (depending on the state) at fault, then the party can recover an amount that is reduced in proportion to his or her degree of fault.
COMPARATIVE FAULT IN TENNESSEE AND MISSISSIPPI
As Memphis is located on the border of Tennessee and Mississippi, it is important for those of us living here to understand the comparative fault laws in both states as many of us frequently drive back and forth between the two.
Tennessee has a modified comparative fault rule, while Mississippi uses pure comparative fault. This means that if your rear-end accident occurs on one side of the border versus the other side, the amount that you are eligible to recover may differ greatly.
After fault in a Tennessee rear-end collision is determined, the court uses a modified comparative fault system with a 50 percent bar to determine how much a party is eligible to recover.
This means that you cannot recover at all if you are 50 percent or more at fault. However, if you are 49 percent or less at fault, then you can recover damages in Tennessee – minus your own liability.
For example, if you have $100,000 worth of damages, and the court finds that you are 20 percent at fault, then you can recover. You are not barred by the 50 percent rule. However, you are limited to recovering 80 percent, or $80,000.
On the other hand, Mississippi follows pure comparative fault. So, you can recover damages even if you are 99 percent at fault. Just remember that your recovery will be reduced in proportion to your fault. For example, if you have $100,000 worth of damages, and the court finds that you are 50 percent at fault, you will only be able to recover 50 percent, or $50,000.
Clearly, your recovery can differ greatly depending on which state your car accident occurs in.
The difference in comparative fault laws in Tennessee and Mississippi means that if you are 50 percent at fault for causing an accident in Tennessee, you will not be able to recover anything. However, if that same accident occurs in Mississippi, then you would be eligible to recover 50 percent of your damages.
The difference between modified comparative fault and pure comparative fault, as you can see, is highly important.
HOW TO CONTEST ANOTHER DRIVER’S CLAIM THAT YOU ARE AT FAULT
As the laws outlined above illustrate, even if a rear-end crash was partially your fault, that doesn’t mean that you are completely deprived of a recovery.
If you are partially responsible for a rear-end crash, it can diminish the amount of compensation that you are legally entitled to recover and can possibly bar you from compensation. However, you may be able to argue that the other driver was also partially at fault.
An experienced accident lawyer will be able to assess your case and work to show that the other driver was at least partially, if not fully, at fault for the rear-end collision. Allocating fault appropriately is essential when it comes to seeking maximum damages in your case.
OUR LAWYERS CAN HELP AFTER A REAR-END ACCIDENT
If you have been in a rear-end collision and are looking for an experienced accident attorney, contact the Law Office of David E. Gordon for a free consultation. You will work directly with Mr. Gordon and be able to benefit from his years of experience from working as a Memphis accident lawyer.