Denlea & Carton


March 12, 2024

Who Is At Fault In a Rear-End Accident?

Rear-End Accidents Are Not Always Cut and Dry

It is easy to assume that a rear-end accident is always the fault of the rear-most driver. While this is often the case, there are exceptions. In addition, New York’s comparative negligence laws make getting compensation for rear-end accidents more complex.

At Denlea & Carton, we have years of experience handling complex rear-end accident cases. Contact us today for more information, or keep reading to learn more about who is liable for rear-end accidents in New York.

Is the Rear Vehicle Always Liable In a Rear-End Accident?

As a general rule, breaking the law makes you liable. Section 1129 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Code makes it clear that the responsibility to maintain a safe distance falls on the rear driver. The rear driver has a responsibility to ensure a safe stopping distance for the traffic and conditions.

Because of this, New York’s courts have established the rebuttable presumption that when a stopped or slowing car is hit from the rear, the rear driver is at fault. However, there may be exceptions, and not all rear-end accidents occur in this way.

When Is a Shorter Following Distance Non-Negligent?

The presumption that the rear driver is liable can generally only be rebutted by proving that a shorter following distance was necessary.

Some examples of when a shorter following distance does not establish negligence include:

  • Speeding up to avoid an unforeseeable hazard on the road
  • Speeding up to avoid an oncoming vehicle
  • Speeding up to avoid other harm

Without compelling evidence that the rear-driver was non-negligent in their following distance, any jury trial will only be to determine the amount of damages, not whether or not the rear-driver was liable.

How Does Comparative Negligence Law Affect Rear-End Accident Cases?

New York is a comparative negligence state, as noted in Section 1411 of the New York Civil Code. This means that if you are partially at fault for an accident, your damages are reduced by your percentage of fault. If a third party contributed to the accident, the liability of the rearmost driver could be reduced as well.

If the forward driver is found to be partially liable, the rear driver could even file a counterclaim for their damages at the percentage of the other driver’s fault. For example, if the forward driver cuts off the rear driver, making it impossible to have a safe following distance in time to stop, the courts could find that the forward driver holds a percentage of fault, reducing the liability of the rear driver.

Who Is Liable In Multi-Car Pileups?

As a general rule, the rear-most driver will hold some liability for all of the damages. However, this liability could be reduced by the other drivers involved. Each driver who was following too closely to stop will be liable for the damages of the cars in front of them.

Determining liability in multi-car pileups is even more complex due to New York’s comparative negligence law. Because each driver could sue for a portion of their damages, these car accident cases are complex and require a skilled attorney.

Claim Your Compensation for a Rear-End Accident

It can be challenging to recoveris no easy matter to claim your compensation for a rear-end accident. Insurance companies will always try to make the accident the other driver’s fault to reduce or deny their payout. Additionally, factors you may not have been aware of at the time of the accident may complicate your case.

The attorneys at Denlea & Carton are experienced in handling all types of rear-end accident cases in New York. Contact us today at (914) 368-7168 to schedule your free consultation.


James R. Denlea

Jeffrey I. Carton

Robert J. Berg

Lindsey Leibowitz

Amber Wallace

John Leifert

Craig Cepler

Steven Schoenfeld

Stan Sharovskiy

Phil Smith

Martin McCann

Catherine Friesen

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