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REAR-END COLLISIONS: WHEN LIABILITY IS NOT CLEAR

Personal injury attorneys often refer to rear-end collisions, where someone fails to stop and collides with the back of another vehicle, as “clear liability” cases.  This means that they do not expect any real dispute over who caused the collision: someone (the “rear-ender”) was going too fast, not paying attention, or otherwise.  However, not all situations are as they appear, and sometimes even the seemingly “clear liability” cases can be problematic.

In a recent case, for example, the Court of Appeal in the Second District upheld a ruling in favor of a truck driver that rear-ended the vehicle in front of him.  Shiver v. Laramee, 2018 DJDAR 5645.  In this case, it was demonstrated that the rear-end collision was the result of a sudden, unexpected emergency created by a road-raging driver that brake-checked the lead driver of a string of vehicles, including the Plaintiff and the truck driver, that were entering the freeway.

The court described this “sudden emergency doctrine” as protecting a defendant from liability in the event of a sudden, unexpected emergency that presents an “actual or apparent danger of immediate injury” where the defendant did not cause the emergency and acted as a reasonable careful person would under similar circumstances. See CACI No. 452.

The Court found the following facts significant:  the situation was unanticipated because vehicles entering the freeway normally accelerate; the sole cause of the emergency was the sudden and unexpected braking of the road-rager; and the truck driver acted reasonable under the circumstances.

This must have been a terrible blow to the plaintiff in that case.  Since the collision that gave rise to this lawsuit originally occurred in September 2014, he has been dealing with this lawsuit for almost four years of his life to now hear the unfortunate news that he is unable to recover anything from the truck driver that rear-ended him.  Roadblocks to recovery can often arise as the case develops through the discovery phase.  Be sure to arm yourself with a competent, effective attorneys office to navigate these murky waters of litigation for you.

Sara Morgan

Ms. Morgan obtained her Juris Doctor from Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California. She contributes to the improvement of both the local and legal communities, having provided pro- and low-bono legal services, and volunteering at legal clinics and other programs serving the community. View Attorney Sara Morgan's Attorney Bio Here.

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