Written by attorney Todd Christopher Werts

Rear End Collisions Doctrine for Car Crash Liability in Missouri

Many car wrecks in Missouri are what are called, "rear end collisions." It is commonly believed that in a rear-end collision that it is the back-most driver who is always 100% at fault. This actually is the default rule in Missouri for motor vehicle accidents caused by one car striking the rear of another automobile from the back. But there are times that the "front" driver is actually the one at fault. As might be expected, the front vehicle is at fault when that driver acts in such a way that the rear driver cannot reasonably be expected to avoid the collision.

For instance, if Driver A is driving on I-70 from Columbia toward St. Louis and another car is entering onto I- 70 from Highway 63 in Columbia (Driver B), the rules of the road dictate that Driver A has the right-of-way. This means Driver B should yield while merging from the on-ramp. If Driver B should suddenly and unexpectedly swerve into the Driver A’s lane, and there is no time for Driver A to react and avoid the collision, then the traffic crash is probably, at least partially, the fault of Driver B.

How do Missouri Court's decide who is at fault?

In determining the fault of Driver B, Missouri courts would look at how much time Driver A had to react. Missouri courts have typically found that a person requires between .75 and 1.5 seconds in order to react in any manner. A reaction time of .75 to 1.5 seconds is equivalent to 66 – 132 feet of roadway at 60 miles per hour. So the determination is primarily a of combination of speed and distance. If the facts of the crash reveal that Driver A did not have enough time to be able to hit the brakes or swerve (or both) to avoid the crash, then Driver B is more likely to be at fault.

In determining who is at fault, courts often look to expert testimony from an accident reconstructionist, physicist, or other expert to evaluate the amount of damage done to the vehicles, the length of any skid marks, eyewitness testimony, and the final locations of the vehicles to determine the speeds and positions of the cars during the crash. The reconstructionist can often also provide an estimate as to how much reaction time the drivers had.

The final point to remember when considering a rear end traffic crash is that Missouri is a comparative fault state. Comparative fault is the legal principal where a defendant’s liability for causing (or contributing to cause) an accident is limited by the comparative fault of the plaintiff. In a Missouri serious personal injury trial, the jury decides both the damages incurred by the plaintiff and the relative percentage of fault of both the plaintiff and the defendant. The recovery for the plaintiff is then reduced by his or her comparative fault in the accident.

Example of a comparative fault determination for a Missouri car wreck.

Assume that Driver A and Driver B are in a car wreck on I-70 as outlined above and Driver A makes a claim against Driver B. Under the facts of the case, the jury finds that Driver A is 25% at fault and Driver B is 75% at fault. The jury also determines that Driver A’s damages are $50,000. When the judgment is entered, the court will reduce the $50,000 verdict by 25%, meaning that the court will enter judgment in Driver B’s favor for $37,500.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a rear end collision, and you think the other driver may be at least partially at fault, then you may be well served to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to see what can be done.

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