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The rear-end shunt – Is the Following Driver Always To Blame?

When it comes to rear-end motor vehicle collisions, there is a strong assumption that the rear vehicle is 100% at fault regardless of whether the driver of the first vehicle drove in a way that may have contributed to the accident.

The common belief “you should be able to stop in time no matter what the circumstances” is very entrenched in our general thinking. However, whist this is true in a majority of cases, the courts have, on occasion, found the driver of the front vehicle to be partly responsible for rear-end shunts.

Cases of negligence

The most common scenario in which the courts will apportion blame is when the driver of the first vehicle brakes without warning, and the second vehicle, unable to stop in time, drives into them. In order to apportion part of the blame, the driver in the rear vehicle must show negligence on the part of the driver of the front vehicle.

What is negligence?

Understanding negligence can be quite difficult for a lay-person without any legal knowledge or background, but it is something that can be useful to be aware of.

The famous definition of negligence is taken from a case held over 100 years ago, but is still in place today. It is either:

• The omission to do something which a reasonable man would normally do in the situation


• Doing something that a reasonable person would not do in those circumstances

Proving negligence

When it comes to proving negligence in a motor vehicle accident of any kind, witnesses are crucial in assisting the court to establish the facts.

This was highlighted in one case from three years ago . This involved, a woman – Margaret Anderson – being rear-end shunted by a lorry driven by a Warburton’s employee.

She was driving on a dual carriageway and overtook a lorry. She then noticed smoke coming from the rear of her car and realised she needed to stop. According to her argument in court, she didn’t see the sign for an upcoming lay-by, and stopped just at the end of it. Her car was partially sticking out onto the carriageway and it was here that she was struck by the lorry.

A police officer who gave evidence stated that the claimant could have pulled her car further over to the left so it was not protruding over the white line marking the edge of the carriageway. A witness to the accident gave evidence that the driver of the lorry gradually reduced his speed to 20-25mph and the smoke became so thick that at one point he (the witness) could no longer see the lorry.

Who’s to blame?

The judge held that blame should be apportioned 2/3 to Mrs. Anderson and 1/3 to the lorry driver on account that although he had slowed down he was still driving too fast for the conditions. Margaret Anderson had to take a greater portion of the responsibility as the judge ruled that her panic was not sufficient reason for not seeing and using the lay-by to park her car safely. Also when she did stop her car, she could have manoeuvred it into a safer position further off the carriageway.

Will the shunter ever be blameless?

It is rare for the shunter to be held totally blameless. In another case, from the 60s , the driver of the rear vehicle was held to be 20% liable even though the lorry that he drove into was found to have no rear lights or reflector, and it was blocking half of a snow-covered road at the time of the accident.

It has happened however, in a case from 2000 . Due to vehicle defects, the driver of a lorry came to an immediate halt without the rear brake lights activating. The cars immediately behind the lorry were able to swerve onto the hard shoulder, however, there was nowhere for the driver of a lorry travelling behind the cars to go.

The driver was not travelling at excessive speed, and although he applied his brakes, he was not able to stop in time to avoid rear-shunting the lorry in front of him.

The judge held that safe driving speeds and distances were those at which a driver was capable of dealing with foreseeable events. The immediate and abrupt halt of a lorry did not fit into this category of a foreseeable event, in this case.

It all depends on the circumstances

It always depends on the individual circumstances of the case, as no two accidents will ever be the same. This means that cases involving rear-end shunts are considered on a case-by-case basis. It’s therefore important to seek legal advice as soon as possible, especially if you sustained a personal injury in the accident.

For more information on car accident claims, view our dedicated page. To find out what you may be entitled to and to get our expert ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors on board with your car accident claim, contact Injury Lawyers 4U today on 0845 345 4444. Alternatively, fill in the form to arrange a call back at your convenience from one of our team.