You are in Louisiana. Imagine driving down the highway and suddenly being hit from behind. You are not expecting what has just happened. Another vehicle plows into the back of your vehicle, causing your head and neck to lurch forward like a reed blowing in the wind. Acting instinctively, you grasp the wheel as hard as you can to slow down your body’s forward momentum. You can only mitigate your movement so much. Your face slams into the steering wheel while the airbags go off. Your vehicle is knocked off course and eventually comes to a stop. You temporarily lose consciousness when you hit the steering wheel, but you slowly regain it after coming to a stop. Your eyes weakly open. You are wondering what is going on? What is happening? You are bleeding, bruised, and dazed. Shattered glass is everywhere and smoke is rising from your vehicle’s hood. You’ve just been a victim of a rear-end collision.
Who is legally at fault in a rear-end collision in Louisiana? The general rule is that the person who hits the other vehicle from behind is at fault in a personal injury action. What is the legal authority for this rule? La. R.S. 32:81 states the following in pertinent part: “A. 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 vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.” When you hit another vehicle from behind, it can be presumed that you were following that vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent. Had you maintained proper distance, you should not have hit that vehicle in the rear. In short, if you hit another vehicle in the back, you will likely be presumed at fault.
Unless you can rebut this legal presumption with evidence to show that the other driver acted unreasonably or that an intervening cause led to the collision, you will likely lose on the issue of fault. For example, if you maintained a reasonable distance from behind, but the other driver in front of you suddenly slammed on his or her brakes for no good reason, you may be able to avoid a finding of fault. Additionally, for example, if you are driving and are hit from behind by another vehicle, propelling your vehicle into the back of the vehicle in front of you, you will likely be able to avoid fault since you were not responsible for the chain collision. The driver behind you set in motion a chain collision that led to you rear-ending another vehicle through no fault of your own. Whether fault will be assessed against you is a fact-dependent inquiry. All facts in your case must be examined to determine who may be at fault in any given rear-end collision.
How can you avoid causing such a nightmarish scenario? To minimize your chances of getting into a rear-end collision, maintain a safe and proper distance from all vehicles in front of you and pay attention to the movement patterns of those vehicles. To facilitate your ability to pay attention, it is important to proactively avoid being distracted. Put away your cell phone before you even begin driving. Do not text message while driving. Text messaging can be as dangerous as drunk driving. If you must call, do so through the speakers in your vehicle to enable hands-free talking on the phone if you have that functionality. A collision can occur in a second or two of you looking down at a cell phone screen to send a text message. That “Lol” text may not be so funny later when an ambulance shows up to take you to a hospital. The cost of that text may very well be your life and/or the lives of others. No text is so important that it cannot wait until you are off the road. Additionally, avoid consuming alcohol and/or drugs before and during driving. A night out at a bar may lead to some fun, but it will also lead to a ruined night if you later get in an accident while intoxicated. Drink responsibly and get an Uber ride if available, or have a friend take you home. Don’t ever drink and drive. In all of your conduct while driving, act with prudence.
If you are the victim of a rear-end collision in Louisiana, hire a competent attorney to help you obtain compensation for your damages. Detailed, strategic, and compassionate advocacy can go a long way towards helping you when you need it most.