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Who Is At Fault In A Sudden Braking Accident?

Legally reviewed by: Miriam Domer February 23, 2024
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In most sudden braking accidents, the driver of the rear vehicle is considered at fault because they failed to maintain a safe following distance. In many states, drivers have a duty of care to leave enough space to accommodate sudden stops by the lead vehicle.

However, there are situations where the driver of the front vehicle is at fault. These include hard braking to discourage tailgating or attempts to defraud an insurance company by causing a rear-end collision.

If you’re in a sudden braking accident and not at fault, it’s best to contact a sudden braking accident attorney to help fight for your compensation.

Rear-end car accident involving two cars on the road

About Fault In Sudden Braking Accidents

While fault in sudden braking accidents is usually assigned to the rear vehicle, it can be assigned to the front vehicle or a vehicle not involved in the accident l.

Sudden Stop Accident Statistics

Making a sudden stop can be dangerous, even fatal. It’s important to leave enough room to come to a complete stop without hitting the vehicle in front of you.

Here are some important facts and statistics on sudden braking accidents:

  • Motorists who have a habit of hard braking are more likely to damage their vehicles with wear and tear and end up in rear-end collisions.
  • Rear-end collisions were the most common type of car crash in 2021.
  • Improper braking increases crash risk significantly.
  • Studies show that automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems can reduce rear-end collisions by approximately 50%.

Legal Options For Victims of Sudden Stop Accidents

Victims in a sudden-stop accident have legal options available to seek compensation from those at fault for the incident.

Car Accident Claims

If your vehicle sustains damage in a sudden stop accident, you can file for car accident claim with your insurance company if you live in a no-fault state. In an at-fault state, your percentage of fault must be determined before you can receive compensation.

Wrongful Death Claims

If a loved one is killed in a sudden stop accident, you may be able to file for wrongful death. Depending on your state of residence and the insurance coverage of all parties, you may receive compensation for wrongful death.

What Causes Sudden Braking Car Accidents?

Sudden braking auto accidents can be caused by a few issues. Some of the top reasons are listed below:

Improper Braking

If a motorist doesn’t allow enough time to stop before an intersection or slow down far enough in advance of a school zone, they may come to a sudden stop or slow down quickly, leading to a car crash.

This can also happen if a driver fails to leave enough space between their vehicle and the lead driver.

Traffic Light Changes or Traffic Congestion

The more traffic on the road, the more likely a motor vehicle accident will occur. It’s important to be as vigilant as possible and keep a proper distance between your vehicle and those in front of you.

Running traffic lights causes the most car accidents in the U.S. Having to make sudden stops because another driver has gone through a red light or they stop quickly as soon as the light turns yellow can cause rear-end collisions.

Road Hazards

When road hazards exist, paying attention to your surroundings is especially important. If you have a sudden stop accident because of a road hazard, the local governing body may be at least partially responsible.

Road conditions can also be hazardous due to bad weather or flooding.

Driver Error

When a driver fails to pay attention to traffic signals, traffic signs, distance between vehicles, and other factors, it can lead to accidents for which they’re at fault.

Malfunctioning Brake Lights

Unfortunately, a driver can’t always know when their brake lights are out. That’s why it’s important to get regular maintenance on your vehicle.

Accidents still happen, and malfunctioning brake lights can put you at fault for failing to signal your intention to stop to other drivers on the road.

Improper Turn Signal Use

Using a turn signal when planning to make a right- or left-hand turn lets the drivers behind you know what’s happening.

Drivers who don’t use their turn signal before turning or don’t use it far enough in advance can be found at fault for sudden stop accidents.

Driving Under the Influence

Using illegal drugs or alcohol and getting behind the wheel can cause sudden stop accidents, because your judgment and reaction times are impaired by those substances.

The same thing can happen if you’ve taken prescription medications that have a driving warning on the label.

Driving under the influence of any substance can cause you to be too slow in responding to signals or danger, often leading to a rear-end car accident.

Driver Distraction

Kids screaming in the backseat, fiddling with a cell phone, digging for a straw, staring at the side of the road too long, and many other things can create costly distractions for drivers.

Common Injuries In Sudden Braking Accidents

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries in sudden braking accidents, but people hurt in these events can also experience:

  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Torn ligaments
  • Torn tendons

National Traffic Laws On Braking

Traffic laws vary by state, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option here. However, many states have laws about the duty of care to maintain vehicles, keeping brakes and other parts in good working order.

A car that hasn’t been maintained is more likely to malfunction and cause an accident, like if you haven’t replaced the brake pads on your tires and your brakes go out. Or, your tires are so old that the tread is completely worn down, and you can’t gain traction in a sudden stop.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed in 2023 that the U.S. require automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems on all passenger cars, light trucks, and heavy vehicles.

They’ve also proposed that passenger cars and light trucks be required to have pedestrian detection systems, especially at night.

The goal would be to reduce rear-end accidents, pedestrian injuries, and fatalities. Each AEB would automatically predict an impending collision and apply the braking system or supplement pressure if the driver is already applying the brakes but not hard enough.

In vehicles that already use an automatic braking system, several issues have been reported in the last few years.

For example, the brakes with some of these systems can mistake shadows for an approaching vehicle and slam on the brakes. There are no regulation standards for AEB systems, so car manufacturers set those standards individually.

Penalties For Sudden Braking Or Brake Checking

In most rear-end crashes, the driver in the front would only be penalized if their brakes were found to be faulty or if they were brake-checking the driver behind them for following too closely.

Damages In Sudden Stop Accident Claims

When the other driver is found to be at fault in a sudden stop accident, you may be able to claim damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and body and mechanical damage to your vehicle.

If you’re responsible for a percentage of the accident, your compensation may be reduced by that percentage, and you may owe the other driver a percentage of their damages claims.

In some states, if you’re found to be over 50% at fault, you’re ineligible for compensation of any kind.

Factors In Sudden Braking Crash Cases

Insurance companies, judges, and jurors must consider many factors in determining who deserves compensation and the amount they deserve.

Level of Fault

In no-fault states, the level of fault is determined by the insurance companies, and each driver files a claim with their own company.

In at-fault states, the insurance companies, law enforcement, or the courts may perform a case evaluation and assign a percentage of fault to each driver.

The level of fault in a sudden braking accident can affect whether a driver receives compensation, owes compensation, and what percentage of each.

Level of Negligence

Comparative negligence determines the percentage of fault for each motorist. The level of negligence in a sudden stop accident can be factors like:

  • Traffic conditions
  • Proper signaling
  • Well-maintained brakes
  • Number of distractions
  • Intoxication

Front Driver Braking Without Cause

If a driver slams on the brakes with no warning, particularly on a high-speed road, and is hit from behind, they may be at fault.

It must be proven that there was no reason for the sudden stop for the driver to be considered at fault. Evidence like police reports and witness statements can help support your case.

Rear Driver Following Too Closely

Drivers following other drivers are supposed to leave enough distance between their vehicle and the one in front of them to avoid crashing, even if the front vehicle comes to a sudden stop.

In cases where the rear driver is following too closely and fails to leave that space, they can be held at fault for the accident.

Third-Party Involvement

Sometimes, a driver slams on their brakes at a sudden stop, causing the driver behind them to slam on their brakes as well but not hit them because that driver left enough space for the stop.

However, it can set off a chain reaction if the third vehicle in the line does not leave that space. They could rear-end the second car but not cause any damage to the first vehicle.

In those situations, the first driver is considered a third party who may have caused the accident but did not sustain any damage.

Lack of Proper Signage or Stoplight Error

In situations where there is no sign to warn of an upcoming intersection or a traffic light suddenly stops working, the vehicle in front may come to a sudden stop, causing the vehicles following to take the same action.

If an accident occurs in these situations, whichever local organization is responsible for signage and signals may be at fault for the accident.

How Can A Sudden Braking Car Accident Lawyer Help?

Proving little to no fault in sudden braking accidents can be very tricky for the rear driver in accident cases.

Some states and insurance companies assign fault percentages to each driver based on the operability of each vehicle, brake light status, traffic and weather conditions, and other factors.

Neither the other driver’s insurance company nor your own will want to pay more than they must, and they’ll have their lawyers speak to you to catch you at fault.

If you have your car accident or personal injury lawyer who can speak on your behalf, you’re more likely to receive compensation and avoid the trap of insurance attorneys.

Always take pictures of the accident scene, vehicle placement and damage, and surrounding area when you’re involved in a car accident to support your insurance claims.

Find Help With Your Sudden Stop Car Accident Claim

You want to find a sudden-stop car accident attorney who can help you win compensation, but you may struggle to find one that you feel you can trust or who will do a good job on your behalf.

Visit the LegalFinders website for a free consultation to help you locate sudden-stop accident or personal injury attorneys who can address your concerns.

Sudden Braking Accident FAQs

Who Is At Fault When A Driver In Front Stops Suddenly And A Collision Occurs?

Usually, the vehicle following is found at fault because they were following too closely.

Occasionally, the front driver can be found at fault for driving while intoxicated, being distracted, failing to maintain working brakes or brake lights, and other factors.

Can You Get Whiplash From Braking Suddenly?

Yes. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries from sudden braking accidents.

What Type Of Collision Is Lkely If A Driver Comes To A Sudden Stop On The Expressway?

A rear-end collision is most likely to happen if a driver comes to a sudden stop on the expressway. When traffic is heavy and multiple vehicles are traveling at high speeds, a multi-car pileup can also occur.

Can You Sue Someone For A Sudden Braking Accident?

Yes. However, if you are the driver of the rear vehicle and the driver in front of you had a legitimate reason for stopping while you were following too closely or not paying attention, you would most likely be considered at fault and not have a valid personal injury lawsuit.

Article Sources

Automotive Fleet. “Safety Systems May Cause ‘Phantom Braking.’” Retrieved from: https://www.automotive-fleet.com/10196711/safety-systems-may-cause-phantom-braking.

Driving. “Drivers startled by their cars auto-braking for no apparent reason.” Retrieved from: https://driving.ca/auto-news/news/drivers-startled-by-their-cars-auto-braking-for-no-apparent-reason.

Driving Test. “The Ultimate List of Driving Statistics for 2023.” Retrieved from: https://driving-tests.org/driving-statistics/.

Hilltop Tire Services. “What Happens if You Slam on Your Brakes Too Hard?” Retrieved from: https://www.hilltoptireservice.com/Blog/ArticleID/488/What-Happens-if-You-Slam-on-Your-Brakes-Too-Hard.

KGW8. “Tesla ‘phantom braking’ could endanger drivers and those following them. So why aren’t they being warned?” Retrieved from: https://www.kgw.com/article/news/investigations/tesla-drivers-complain-unexpected-phantom-braking/283-f6916c06-f052-4d01-9813-e0c5fe3eff39.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “NHTSA and FMCSA Propose New Safety Standard Requiring Automatic Emergency Braking Systems in Heavy Vehicles.” Retrieved from: https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/heavy-vehicles-automatic-emergency-braking-proposed-rule.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “NHTSA Proposes New Safety Standard Requiring Automatic Emergency Braking Requirements for New Vehicles.” Retrieved from: https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/automatic-emergency-braking-proposed-rule.

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