If a driver rear-ends cars that have stopped due to their car-crash, who is at fault?

  • It depends on the degree that each driver is blameworthy for the second crash
  • The court must look at each driver’s conduct in the circumstances and decide to what degree they did not act with reasonable care.

In Langille v. Nguyen a collision happened at night, about ¾ of the way across the Second Narrows Bridge.  Ms. Langille rear-ended a car while driving in the middle lane.  She got out and spoke to the other driver, then got back in her car to get her insurance papers.  While reaching for her glove box, she was rear-ended by a car driven by Ms. Marchant.  Ms. Marchant had crested the bridge, been distracted by some flashing red and blue lights further down the bridge, then noticed the stopped cars.  She tried to swerve and brake, but hit the Langille car.

The judge decided that Langille was 60% at fault.  The first collision had happened one or two minutes earlier, which gave Langille enough time to take appropriate steps to avoid a second collision.  Since the closest exit was some distance away, it was reasonable to exchange information on the spot rather than drive off the bridge first.  However, Langille should have moved her car over to the side of the bridge and further away from the crest.  She should have turned on her hazard lights.  Both of those actions would have been reasonable things to do to minimize risk to other drivers. 

Marchant was 40% at fault.  She should have been paying better attention.  She took her eyes off the road to look at the lights at the north end of the bridge.  She had more passengers in her car than permitted by her “N” designation, which may have contributed to her distraction.  She may not have been intoxicated to any degree, but the wine she had drunk could have contributed to her distraction.  The Langille collision was three-quarters of the way across the bridge and had she been paying better attention she might have realized sooner that the cars were stopped, requiring her to taking action by slowing, stopping or changing lanes.

Rear-end collision cases may look simple, but fault may not be as straightforward as it seems.  We can help.  Contact us.

Read the case:  Langille v. Nguyen

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